The Wonders of Life

“Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die; beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual.” -Vladamir Nabokov

This quote doesn’t have to do with much in my life right now but I think it’s pretty and true and a little bit sad so I included it. The picture is City of Books by Ma Chevrette—a print I got off her etsy the other week. I think it has a lot to do with my life right now. But then, books and art always do. And a city made out of books? Well, that’s just too perfect.

I wonder if she pitied the books when she turned them into buildings. And I wonder if she pitied the buildings after she created them.

But I’m feeling oddly poetic and a little dreamy at the moment so I’m wondering a lot of things.

 

This is a picture of my car with a missing tire:

No tire

Ha, with a missing tire. As opposed to, without a tire. I don’t know why I chose to say it in just that way, but it goes to show that when you lose something you gain something. I may have lost a tire but I gained a missing tire. And a story to tell. An old friend of mine once said, “Isn’t that what life is all about? Having stories to tell?” I’ve always remembered it.

This particular story is simple:

I woke up.

I walked to my car.

It had a missing tire.

It had a missing rim as well.

I put on my spare tire and drove to the shop.

I got two new tires and a rim.

Now I park my car closer to my apartment.

The end.

Ha, it’s a cautionary tale I suppose. Don’t park your car next to shady characters. Wasn’t it just a few posts back when I was talking about how excited I was to find a good place to park my car? I think I may have even used the words shady characters. Ooops. If I was capable of reading my own life the way I read a novel, I might have been smart enough to see that one coming. It’s such obvious foreshadowing.

 

I went to the symphony with my good friends Laurie and Scott. I’ve never been to the symphony before and I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to classical music but it it was wonderful. It makes a big difference when you’re there and experiencing the music live, when you’re surrounded by it, and with other people.

Scott told me how the main violin player, essentially the first violin, of the San Francisco symphony gets to play this violin that the symphony owns that’s over 300 years old. Could you imagine? Playing something with such a history? And having something that was built in such a real and lasting way that it survives 300 years of existence? And not just any existence, actual use? That kind of stuff just blows my mind.

I have to say, going to the symphony for the first time felt like how I imagine some people must feel going to a baseball game for the first time. (There is so much history there–in the building, with each player, instrument, composer, each sound and note, and even the owners and operators. It’s just like baseball…only it’s so much older.) So yes, I loved it.

 

I’ve been running more lately and, even though I try to look up and take in my surroundings, I tend to run with my head down. (I’ve always done this–spaced out and looked at my own feet when I’m running or walking. I feel like half of my day is spent reminding myself to look around me instead of just watching where I’m going.) But it was during one of my city runs, with my head down, looking at my own feet, that I started to notice all the messages people had drawn into the sidewalks.

There are a ton of messages and art and hands and pictures and just random stuff drawn into the concrete on the sidewalks of San Francisco. The first thing that really made me take notice was the scene above. The Wonders of Life. I mean, come on, how can anyone with even an ounce of romance in their soul not find that completely delightful? They even drew a sun, and stars, and flowers. Clouds and birds. Very nicely done.

So yes, I started a tumblr: http://somethingconcrete.tumblr.com/. Thanks to one of the many wonders of life, new technology, if I happen to find a fun message or picture drawn into the concrete I can snap a picture and post it right away.

 

I’ve been watching the Ken Burn’s documentary on jazz. In addition to listening to Louis Armstrong and The Hot Five all weekend, I’ve been obsessing over this quote from Sidney Bichet:

Whatever kind of thing it was, whenever it happened, the music put it together…What it is that takes you out of being just a kid and thinking it’s all adventure, and you find there’s a lesson underneath all that adventure–that lesson, it’s the music. You come into life alone and you go out of it alone, and you’re going to be alone a lot of time when you’re on this earth–and what tells it all, it’s the music. You tell it to the music and the music tells it to you. And then you know about it. You know what it was happened to you.

There’s so much that’s beautiful and perfect in that.

One of the men in the documentary was talking about Louis Armstrong and described genius as the ability to hear something that isn’t there, something that doesn’t exist, something that nobody else can hear. Louis Armstrong heard a sound that didn’t exist, and then he made that sound. It’s incredible when you really think about it. Reminds of how Galileo saw stars nobody else could but it’s more than that. It’s not just seeing stars nobody else can see. It’s creating those stars. It’s constructing realities. Whole new sounds and ways of hearing. It’s changing the world. It’s the stuff you talk about when you’re young and up late at night, drunk and a little crazy with ideas and learning and loving and making mistakes. It’s genius.

My brother once told me that music is freedom. I’m sure he wasn’t the first one to say it, but it was the first time I listened. I’ve always remembered that too.

 

Despite the fact that he looks sweet and innocent while napping in the sun, Rupert is now a full-blown killer. He kills birds and mice and tortures them. And he gets very upset when I won’t let him into the house with his new toys. One night last week he stood outside my back door meowing this creepy meOOOOooowwphfff, that was really him trying to meow with a huge mouse in his mouth. That was actually kind of cute. You know, in that meowing with a huge dead mouse in your mouth sort of way.

He is averaging one kill a week.

Earlier this week I got home and a bloody wing was sitting on my back porch in front of the door. I don’t want to know what that’s foreshadowing. Sometimes these silly things happen and it seems like such an obvious symbol that it’s hard to remember that in the real world a bloody wing doesn’t mean anything other than my cat killed a bird.

I’m totally using that in a story some day though. And then it will be symbolic of broken dreams or, I dunno, destroyed innocence or something like that.

 

I went to SFMOMA again, not this weekend but the last, and there’s a new installment by Klara Kristalova that I really liked. She works with ceramics and her pieces play on different fairy tale and folktale traditions. Some are more whimsical while others are more creepy.  I really like her style though. It’s childlike and rough and that’s exactly why it works. Here’s a sample:

Kind of different for me, but I like it. The pictures don’t do her justice, so if you’re in SF and get a chance you should check it out.

 

My friend Victoria had her first Banned by the Bay event for Banned Book Week today. It was a great kickoff at the San Francisco library and I’m stoked for the rest of the week.

So there’s more fun to come. More adventures to be had. (And under the adventures, lessons to learn.) Ha, all the wonders of life–300 year-old violins, a bloodied bird’s wing, ceramic owl heads, and a city of books.

There are so many beautiful things to pity these days.

(heartfelt sigh goes here)

Stuff that has happened and stuff I have seen

My cat killed a bird last week. He has never done this before and yet he dragged a headless sparrow into my apartment.  (I am calling it a sparrow because it looks like what I imagine a sparrow looks like but really I have no idea what it was, or if sparrows even live in San Francisco–perhaps it was the only sparrow here, perhaps it was the last sparrow of San Francisco and now my cat has killed it.) It was early in the morning (around 2:00) so I just let him in and he played with his sparrow in the dark–tossing it up, throwing it down, ripping it up–for a good ten minutes before I finally realized that he was romping with his catnip mouse with just a tad more enthusiasm than was usual. I had to scoop the poor bird up and throw it away.

And then, two days later I went to the Picasso exhibit at the De Young and there was a painting of a cat with a bird. This painting:


And it looked so much like my cat, and it seemed so odd and fated and connected somehow that there should be this painting of my cat at this exhibit (and all in the same week) that I had to buy the ridiculous print. It’s hanging above my head now. I kind of love it.

“Maybe he was Picasso’s cat in a past life,” my friend Stephanie, who was with me at the time said.

I always have called Rupert the Hemingway of cats (from an old conversation Victoria and I had about him) so it would not surprise me at all if he had hung out with Picasso. A cat’s life is A Moveable Feast afterall. And everyone hung out in those days. I know because I saw them all together in the movie A Midnight in Paris, that was playing at the Kubuki Theater last weekend. And then they were also all in The Stein’s Collect exhibit that’s at the SFMOMA. (That’s not to be confused with the Picasso exhibit I saw at the De Young or the Five Stories exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.)

I like when all the museums in San Francisco get together. It’s like the whole city is having one big conversation about art.

(I say this like it has happened to me before, like I know all about this connection between museums, but really this is the first time I’ve noticed this supposed connection since it’s only the second month I’ve lived here.)

The man who works at the corner store across the street from me (the corner store across the street, I think I like that) asked me what I do for a living tonight. I told him and then he asked me, “What is marketing?”

I didn’t know how to answer so I laughed instead. The man had just sold me a sandwich I didn’t want or need. (I’m eating it now and it’s delightful.) When I couldn’t explain my position he asked me where I worked.  After I told him in the financial district he said, “Did you know that I have two sons?”

I didn’t know the answer to that either so I laughed again.

This is a common pattern with me–unknowingness and laughter.

There is another, completely different man on my way to work. He works in the hotel that’s connected to the building I work in, but on the other side of it. I noticed him waving at me when I walked by the glass door he works behind. I’m usually kind of out of it in the morning, lost in my own thoughts and walking and daydreaming, listening to music. But I looked up and caught his eye once and he waved at me. At first I didn’t really think he meant to but then the next day I checked and he did it again so I waved back. I started checking every day and he waved at me every day and so I waved back every day. Then I started looking forward to waving back. At first I thought I was special, like I was the only one he waved at, but then I noticed… Other people were waving at him too!

There are a lot of us. I knew for sure what was going on when there was this old woman who stopped in front of his door and waited for a good oh, minute or so (he must have been talking to someone) for him to look over and wave. The sidewalks are busy in the mornings, especially at this spot, but she stopped and she waved and she got her wave back. After that, I started noticing all the others. You can tell who knows about the man because they pause a little bit before approaching his door. And, I have to admit, he’s a great waver. He doesn’t just wave. He smiles. He smiles big and he waves like a little kid–full of enthusiasm. Like a little kid in the back of his parents’ car on a really long boring roadtrip. Huh, and maybe it is in a way.

But it’s just about the best, most beautiful thing ever, his wave. Anyone who knows me at all knows that it’s things like this that get to me. It’s like being in on a secret. It’s such a small silly thing but it makes me smile. And when I think of how many people he must wave at, how many people that must be in on the secret too, it’s like joining some kind of amazing waving club. It makes me giggle to myself every time. It makes me smile like a little kid too.

There is an old woman I met on the J the other night. She wanted to know where I had gotten my New Yorker. “I’ve looked all over the city for one,” she said, “and I can’t find one anywhere.”

I found this hard to believe but couldn’t be sure if she was exaggerating or not since I have a subscription. Still, she told me about how she had just moved here from Florida to be close to her daughter–she had been living with this daughter and her husband but it was “time for her to get her own place.” I told her I had been living with my brother and part of the reason I moved here was that it was time for me to get my own place too.

“Family shouldn’t live together for too long,” she said.

Which I thought was hilarious because isn’t that part of what a family is? People who live together? Not for long apparently.

I met a cab driver who hates traffic. “Funny thing, a cab driver who hates traffic, ” he said, “but I HATE it.”  Seemed kind of expected to me.

I got this print at the SFMOMA exhibit:

It’s by Marie Laurencin and shows her, Picasso, his mistress, and a poet named Apollinaire who was Marie’s lover. How scandalous it all seems and yet how dignified they all look. (Except maybe the girl in the bottom right corner, who is Laurencin the artist.) Something about it makes me happy. Maybe it’s just the story. Or maybe it’s the dog. I like thinking of artists all hanging out and loving and making mistakes with each other. I know it’s me romanticizing again but ha, isn’t what I’ve been doing this entire post? Isn’t that what I always do?

I’ve been reading a beautiful book. Here is a quote:

Because Momik has this gift, a gift for all kinds of languages no one understands, he can even understand the silent kind that people who say maybe three words in their whole life talk, like Ginzburg who says, Who am I who am I, and Momik understands that he’s lost his memory and that now he’s looking for who he is everywhere even in the garbage cans, and Momik has decided to suggest (they’ve been spending a lot of time together on the bench lately) that he should send a letter to the radio program Greetings from New Immigrants, and maybe someone would recognize him and remind him who he is and where he got lost, oh yes, Momik can translate just about anything. He is the translator of the royal realm. He can even translate nothing into something.

All of the kids in Noe Valley dress like princesses and superheros. If you go out on a Sunday, or even a weekday or a Saturday (but always on Sundays), you will see them skipping around the streets or tugging on their parent’s hands–Little princesses in Disney costumes somewhat at odds with their bicycle helmets. Boys wearing spiderman pajamas and crocks. It’s like stepping into another world where everyone is magic and has lots of money.

I’ve been listening to new songs recommended by an old friend. They make me happy and sad at the same time. But then, most everything worth loving usually does. Except for maybe dogs, potatoes, and ice cream. They’re always perfect.

I found a dive bar by my house where the bartender dances, they play Johnny Cash and Bonnie Rait, and the other night when I was walking by on the way back from the grocery store everyone was singing take me out to the ball game during the 7th inning stretch of the Giants game.

That. Is. So. Cool.

I was talking on the phone today, and I wanted to finish my conversation so I sat down on some steps before getting on the MUNI on Montgomery. A man saw me sitting there in my dress on the phone, I might have looked worried though I’m not sure why, and he came up and asked if I was okay.

I told him I was great but it was nice of him to stop and check.

I like it here.