Monday, May 16, 2005

Sticky and Tricky

The sticky table is being restored! Waxy varnish has been scraped, and the sanding is in progress. The surface is soft as skin, the grain a lapping wave. Ian says it must be varnished, but this time without wax. Sara says, “Women are doing the carpentry, and men are mopping the kitchen floor.” Stay tuned.

It was a weekend of visitors, creating a tug between the hive and the birds. Those attracted to the project have tended to be accomplished and open, so during visiting hours it was like having a cocktail party delivered. A question arose: “How has being here influenced your writing?”

The best part so far is writing, period. For long stretches. In proximity to two other pods containing silent workers. There’s an inaudible hum, a synergy in this slightly public but not interactive condition. In this way, my work is collaborative with the other writers, as well as with the designers of our habitats and with Flux Factory. More than one visitor likened this to a meditation circle.

I doubt my writing will be influenced by the content of what my companions are composing, but I’m spurred by the containment of my house and the seriousness of purpose the participants share. I felt that as soon as I entered—even before, watching the habitats go up. Being honored by another artist’s effort and excellence is an impetus to ante up, make the project sweeter with what I throw into the pot. No one is goofing off or wants to, though I’m sure I would be if I weren’t here. I’d be pouring myself into too many other containers. My insecurities would get the better of me. I feel them here, but being in my house or re-entering it if I’ve taken a break transforms my mood fast. I don’t think what I’m writing here is better than what I’d produce outside, rather that I’m motivated and able to keep going.

Architects think about the ways that space effects people’s emotional states and performance. I’m thinking about this more than usual in my little house, partly because I want to be a reporter rat for Salazar Davis, whose design creates tensions between exposure and concealment and between security and interruption. Paul visited on Sunday to participate in the artists’ panel and to spiff up the interior of my house. I now have two rubber and stainless steel library stools for stepping up to both ends of my bed, as well as a handle to open my door from inside. (Outside, to throw off visitors, the door is camouflaged as part of an exterior wall.) Paul installed eight double hooks for clothes and towels and built a shelf for an electric fan positioned to cool the bed at night and circulate air the rest of the time. We screwed in five more shelves between exposed two-by-fours, allowing surfaces for toilet stuff and books I’d stacked on my desk and the floor. Oh yeah, he brought a bouquet of peonies that stunk up the place real good. What a change. Moving things off my desk felt like moving things off my chest, the house an extension of my body, like a pilot’s cockpit, everything within arm’s reach or nearly so. The house is a body.

At the artists’ panel, Mitch McEwen, a partner in Tricky Ink with Kwi-Hae Kim (the designers of Ranbir’s house), explained some of the triggers for their fascinating visual conceits. They were interested in “the secret nature of a box” which led them to think about secrets in building structures, like cavity walls, and about espionage and the ways spies exchange messages in “dead letter boxes.” “The secrecy of writing appealed to me,” said Mitch, who wears her hair close-cropped and has an impish smile. She was sitting on her skateboard as she clicked images on her computer screen. The team used boxes in their construction, creating an exterior wall out of materials generally used inside. By building with packaging materials, they wanted to make visible in some ways the nature of building, comparing that to an idea in Flux Factory’s proposal, which was to make writing visible by letting people observe fiction writers.

A young man who attended the panel said afterward that he’d recently read Hebdomeros, the novel by Giorgio de Chirico, in which writing achieved a surreality equal to the paintings. Did that make the writing visible or did sentences produce sensations similar to ones stirred by a visual medium? The young man said that in a different way blogs expand the visibility of writing, by allowing a window into process—people posting work that isn’t finished and isn’t necessarily aiming to be reworked and polished. Through their comments, readers also affect how a writer might evolve a text, interactive technology enabling new forms of collaboration, authorship, and invention.

I said I was wary of publishing fiction excerpts I considered raw. I was discovering the plot of the thing I was writing now as I went along. He said readers of blogs knew how to approach text in this state. I suppose they see it containing cavity systems and dead letter boxes they can leave messages in. I am willing to experiment, though I don’t think writing can be made visible by watching someone compose in a box or anywhere else. For me it’s a solitary conversation between me and words I summon, fiddle with, and coax into meanings I intend and others I didn’t realize were there.


At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Lora said...

....the excerpt of the story wholey yours becomes ours when printed in blog form like this one. The part of a story takes on a different weight then the story itself.. does it spiral out of control? does it become the end to the means? i think maybe i would be going a little batty at this point...

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous dan fishback said...

"Still, whatever happened, she didn’t want to be cut open. The one time she had been, I was born."


Laurie, it's Dan, the skinny Jewish gay boy who drinks with you at various Deb-related events. I lost your contact info, and was delighted to find this here blog. I'm very jealous of your seclusion, compulsory focus, and home-cooked vegetarian meals.

Best wishes from the outside world of disorder and distraction,

dan fishback

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Devon Ellington said...

Very enlightening post -- answered many of my questions about the installation.

It's such a fascinating experience.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Carl Browne said...


I am your brother rat. Your sister rat and I share the house that Paul and Mauricio built in Southern California. We've lived there for the last six months.

When you speak about tension between exposure and concealment and between security and interruption, I understand you perfectly. I never thought about it in those terms until now. Yet our bedroom is a stage for passers-by and our living room a vitrine--a museum diarama of rattus suburbanus in a true-to-life setting. If we're feeling introverted, we draw the shades and the outside becomes nothing but milky shadows. When we're feeling social--we threw a party when Paul was out here last--we open the glass doors so people can circulate. Breezes blow through. Sunshine flows into all of the rooms, creating geometric patterns on the walls and floors. Life is good.

When we speak of rats, we usually mean the contractors, now decamped, who would have taken over the experiment if left to their own devices. This is too narrow a definition.

It's fine to be a rat, don't you think?

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