Thursday, June 08, 2006

Three Arts Club, college and the beach- Chicago

in each of us there is a bit of all of us


Writing and Art
“ Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.”

College life :The Writing Class
Officially I should not be in this Writing class because it is for post grad students. But I inveigle my way into it.

“I have earned my living as journalist for 20 odd years I think I will be able to keep up," I argue.
So they let me in.

It kicks off with some ten handy hints for aspiring writers.

1. Do not deny your past. Use it as a launch point to the future.

2. You should think of the future. it is all you have got.
3. What are your ten top obsessions?
What connection is there between your obsessions and your work?
“If horse riding is your passion and it is not in your novel then you are making a mistake.”

4 Put some extreme version of yourself into your work.
5. Dialogue. Plays. there are those who can only write dialogue. Ask yourself: are you one of those?

6.. Remember serious literature is read mainly by women.

7. What is your bedside reading? that gives a good indication of what you really like.

8.“Tell the most interesting story you know and let the philosophical chips fall where they may.

9 Rules: Be clear. Don't use too many adverbs. Don't get cute tonally.
10. Pass a “shit detector” over your work - Hemingway always did.


Art and Machines

“I don’t know whether I believe in God or not, I think, really, I am some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to prayer.”
Henri Matisse.

Visit a printmaking exhibition in the Ballroom in Michigan Building.
The hoary old chestnut raises its head: craft versus machines.
One printmaker says:
“ There is something special about a piece of work made by a human hand, about a drawing by another human being that connects you to another human being in a way that no machine can do.”
So true. When will machines be able to evoke an emotional response in us?


Photography and the future

Frank Barsotti, Professor of Photography, reckons soon we will all be digital. He says that traditional photographic processes will go the way of lithography - something that a minority of people i.e. fine artists will do but that it will be largely irrelevant.
The world will be Digital.
Found a message on the printer in the Writing Lab. “ Sylvia has a misfeed.”
I like it. This makes Sylvia sound like a decrepit old lady doing something revolting with her food not a high tech printer that’s jammed.
Have started to read Marshall McLuhan.
He talks of the meaning of the photo in creating a world of accelerated transience. True, so true.
And newspapers are a mosaic form of presenting diverse information about human life while global television has the power to involve the whole world in a ritual process from funerals to wars to terrorist attacks.


The Opera Singer’s Dilemma
We’ve got a new young opera singer , Sophie, in our midst. She’s very ambitious and practises for hours singing and accompanying herself on one of the two Steinways in the Three Arts Club.

Anyway Sophie is upset tonight. She needs to talk and joins our table for coffee.
“What’s the problem?” asks Jodie
“It’s my tutor. He keeps saying I should put more expression into my singing. I told him I didn't know how.”
She gulped and wiped a tear from her face.
“So, do you know what he said to me?”
We shook our heads.
“He told me to think of the last time someone touched me.”
We nod. Sounds like good advice.
“But that’s the problem! I can’t remember the last time someone touched me. Singing is my life. I have no time for relationships.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Find yourself a boy friend,” urges Jodie who believes sex is the answer to everything.
“I don't like men.”
“Well, find yourself a woman then,” says Jodie .
Sophia shrieks.
“I don't like women either.”
“Well, what do you like,”demands Jodie.
Sophia shakes her head.
“Singing. It’s my life.”
We fall silent. For once nobody can think of a solution.
So Jodie changes the subject.
“Do you know what the average American person thinks of the British?”
As the only British person sitting around the table clearly this is aimed in my direction.

“ The average American’s view of British people, and you have to remember that most people have never met a British person- only ten percent of the population have passports.- is that you are a kinky lot,” says Jodie, a former tough New York PR woman turned artist.
“All that boys public school stuff, homoeroticism, leather and whips .”
She doesn't believe me when I tell her I don't know anyone who fits that category.

As for Sophie, she gasps, clutches her hankie, and leaves the table.


Out and About

The El

It’s mid- evening on the El from Monroe to Clark/Division. It’s been a long day in college and I’m tired.
I look around on the El. We are all the same: tired, pretending we are not there, just wishing we could get home as fast as possible with as little hassle as possible.
But it’s not to be.
The silence is broken by a young Afro-American woman on crutches begging inside the train.
She has broken an unwritten rule:” no do hassle commuters inside the train” .
Anyway” beggars do not board trains and hassle passengers.” Often there are security guards around to stop them.
Tonight it’s quiet and there are no guards around.
She is confident and aggressive demanding money from each individual. We all ignore her.
So she goes through to the next carriage.
I get off at Clark/Division and just as I am about to step onto the escalator I look behind. The homeless woman on crutches had got off too. She is standing alone, her back against the wall in a quiet corner of the station her proud shoulders now hunched , her face crumbling into silent howls of despair. The hardness and arrogance of 10 minutes ago has gone. That was her outer skin, her way of surviving.
Now she waits for the train back to the South side to the ghetto.
I am already on the escalator exhausted What to do ? I do nothing. I feel ashamed.

I walk home through the Gold Coast where dustbins ae locked to stop the homeless rooting around inside them only tonight someone has forgotten to lock theirs and I hear a rattling noise come from one of the alleyways. I glance in its direction. There’s a elderly Afro-American man with a supermarket trolley rifling through the contents of a giant dustbin. Our eyes meet briefly.
I look away and go home.


On the beach:Tony and Sharon

They look like Tarzan and Jane.
Every day you see them on the beach, jogging and feeding the seagulls.

He’s is big, bronzed with lots of gold chains, heavily tattooed and spends his time training, weightlifting and feeding the seagulls.
He has a partner a very fit blonde. Only they are not called Tarzan and Jane but Tony and Sharon.

They are happy to talk. Moreover they ae delighted to be filmed.
“We’ve been feeding the birds for ten years” says Tony.
“They are our children,”adds Sharon.

“We go around the fast food outlets in Chicago and get food that’s thrown into dustbins, mainly pizzas cause they at easier to throw in the air.
”The birds are very territorial. They have their own patches on the beach and will not cross over,” explain Sharon. “ They gather each day waiting for us .”
Sometimes dogs run through scattering the feeding process and the birds disperse, so we wait a few minutes and they swarm over again for the food.”

How did they get started?
“I was just a kid and threw some food one day for the birds and they jumped at it. That was it. I was hooked ever since,” said Tony.
I was curious to know what he did for a living that he could devote so much time to the birds.
But I didn't like to ask fearing that the answer would destroy the Tarzan and Jane image I had of them.


Three Arts Club
Breakfast with the morning papers
“You’ve always made the mistake of being yourself.”
Eugene Ionesco.

Jodie pushes the morning paper across the table.
”What do you think of that? We’ve gone nutty.”
It’s an article about a futuristic sofa designed by Philip Starck : a giant king size “bed” in white leather with built in TV , DVD, computer and cellphone. You need never move from it.
Jodie complains: ”Who would want to live their lives on a sofa, even a grand one designed by Stark?”

But is it that far fetched? Today on the student notice board under the For Sale notice is a king-sized mattress, television, vcr and cell phone. All for less than a hundred dollars.

I read the morning papers scanning for crime. My favourite start to the day.
I don’t have to search far.
”Two Irish girls followed home at 4.30 am off the El. Men break into their digs and rape them.”
The twist is that its in a good area. Sheffield.
We discuss it.”Well, what do you expect you travel on the El at that time of the morning? Asking for it.”

I murmur some feminist principles; should not matter what time fo the day or nigh it is a woman shout dbe able to travel safely.”
Jodie looks at me with astonishment as if I had just stepped of another planet :
”Bullshit! its an urban jungle out there. ”
She adds:” This is Chicago. You gotta hit the ground running...”

There's another story. A gun car jack. There’s this guy driving around town with a gun at his neck except nobody outside the car can see it. he passes his son and waves. The son waves back having no idea that his Father has a gun at his neck. he is forced to drive to a cash line and empty his account.

Then there is the story of a four year old boy who shoots his one year old sister with a gun bought by his father for 1200 dollars of cocaine and left lying around the house,

But the main splash of the day is a shoot out in Bucktown, an up and coming area. A woman has opened a new restaurant there and she is shot at during the crossfire at midnight while inside her restaurant. She berates the gangsters in the Chicago Tribune: "What do you think this is Wild West country.” It was a dispute between two gangs and they tore down the street shooting at each other from their cars. Her restaurant just happened to get in the way.”


Red Moon theatre group

Filmed this from my bedroom window overlooking the courtyard in the Three Arts club.
Red Moon, the well-known Chicago theatrical group gave an astonishing performance in the courtyard. This is real theater!

I get a ringside view of the fire-eaters who perform just outside my bedroom window.

Weddings in the Three Arts Club
Imagine living in the middle of somebody’s wedding party - three days a week. Well I had been warned . There had been dark mutterings about “the weddings” though nothing prepared me for the reality.
To help subsidise the low cost of the rent the formal rooms in the Three Arts club are let out to conferences and weddings.
And we are advised to make ourselves scarce during these festivities. Folk who have spent a small fortune decking themselves out don't want to be sharing the same space with scruffy students.
I know some people find these wedding parties a complete pain but I adore them. I loved the glitz, the glamour, the whole American razzmatazz.
I would come home from college never knowing whether I was going to be in the middle of a Jewish wedding, a pagan ceremony or a traditional American ceremony.
It was like living in the middle of a Hollywood movie set.
An added bonus was that I got a ringside view from my bedroom window which overlooked the enclosed courtyard where the wedding ceremonies took place.

Jewish weddings were particularly flamboyant and lovely. We had one the other night. A pair of Jewish doctors got married and both bride and groom gave profuse thanks to their parents for bringing them up.
Afterwards the son went on to reiterate his thanks to his mother once again only this time in written form in the Book of Ceremony, left in the entrance hall.
I couldn't resist a peek.
It ended with the words: :”especially to my lovely mother who is still pretty and doesn't look 74 years of age.”
Later the mother crossed the reference to her age out.
Nobody likes to be reminded of their advancing years. . You never see a grey haired man or woman in the States.

The shelves in our local Walgreens is stacked high with every conceivable product to hide grey hairs.
You may be getting on a bit in years but you don't have to advertise it to the whole world for heavens sake.


Debbie told us at dinner about her “faint”.

“It happened in the Pedro cafe and nobody noticed.

“I don’t know how long I was out. When I came to I called the waiter over and told him. He said he thought I was asleep.
He brought me a glass of water and told me to sit up.
He did not charge for the water.”
Nevertheless Debbie is disturbed by this experience .
We try to comfort her at dinner by telling her its something to do with the enormous swings in temperature - up to 30 degrees in less than 24 hours. She remains unconvinced. She thinks she has got something terminal wrong with her.
Anyway she knows all about the Chicago heat.
“Sometimes I gotta go and sleep over with a friend who’s got air-conditioning.”
And when it gets really hot the city will open cooling shelters for the poor .


The great American taboo
“ If the 19th century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the age of the psychiatrist’s couch.”
Understanding Media Marshal McLuhan.

We got to talking about death at breakfast.
Lisa , a trainee curator grimaced:” Ugh! that’s a bit heavy !.”
And she moved to another table. Other regulars who had until then been quietly eating their breakfast and listening but not joining in the conversation followed.
“See what I mean?” said Alice “When my husband died 20 years ago many friends just ignored me. They didn't know what to say. They would even cross the street to avoid me.”
Nobody want to listen to Iris and Sheri talking about grief. Iris lost a stepson five years ago from a brain seizure five years ago and she says she has not really grieved his death and she wants to talk about it.
And Sheri trained as a grief counsellor. So Iris talks and Sheri listens.
Later Sheri asks me:
“ How popular is therapy in England?”
“It’s not,” I say.” In fact it’s regarded as a bit weird, a sign that you can’t cope.”
“Your kidding?”
They don't believe me.
Cindy has been in therapy for four years and Karen is about to start a 5 year course of psychoanalysis.
Finding a soul -mate is difficult and the word has got out that there are a lot of wealthy mature women living in the Gold Coast who are looking for someone to share their lives with.
And they go to Church. And the word has spread.
So men from all kinds of backgrounds from all over Chicago troop to churches in the Gold Coast, masquerading as sinners.
“Stay away from men you meet in Church” says Jodie “ I’ve had some bad experiences there.”
I say I have no plans to go to Church.
Meanwhile Alice , approaching seventy years of age, is suffering from overwork and exhaustion. She has been to see her doctor.
She complains at dinner.
“I wanted some pills and all he tells me is to stay in bed for a week! I teach in a poor area. I don't have sick pay. If I don't work I have no money.”
So she took two days off then went back to work.


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