Thanks for checking out my newsletter. I’m back after a few weeks off and after reading a bunch of novels on a long overdue personal reading week. Here is some of what’s in store below:
Holler back my way with anything cool and interesting that’s been getting your attention.
I swung through the MSU Broad Museum this week for a quick meeting with friends who were passing through town. The Material and Form section took up most of my time.
Here, raw material like rubber and steel transform into sculptures that evoke the blossoming of a flower or our own bodily features. What do these artists’ creations reveal to us about our relationships to the automobile? How do we see ourselves, our values and ideals, in and through it?
The standout section for me was by sculptor Chakaia Booker, who made sculptures with black rubber tires. She said:
I was making things from discarded materials – assemblages – and any time I went out to look for materials, the rubber tire was was always there.
Why tires? And why these other materials from cars and the automotive industry throughout the exhibit?
As commercial objects, tires symbolize the promises of the automobile: freedom, exploration, movement. But when discarded, they become metaphors for the decline of industry and the abundant waste resulting from rampant consumerism. Booker gives new life to urban debris through her intensive process of cutting, sewing, shredding, and bending rubber tires into complex, textural forms.
You can see below the rubber sculptures were fastened to white walls. Some of them like this one were about 24 inches in diameter with dense intersections in the middle.
Others like this one reached out to a side, or spun single arms and wedges in a direction.
But as we stood there longer looking at them, I realized the real party wasn’t in the black bends and arches of the rubber. The real party is in the lighting: the shadows cast against the wall! Look at the grey loops and wedges that fly out against the wall below from the lighting above. You can see these quite well in the piece below, how a single swoop casts multiple shadows against the wall, or how a rubber loop of the tire that is closed to your view opens up when the light casts it into a shadow.
When we realized this – what was happening with light and shadows – we had to take another pass through each piece and look anew.
Ishmael Reed – interviewed in The Paris Review – said this about his work routine:
I get up early in the morning. And I take a lot of notes. I get a lot of ideas when I’m swimming. I swim three times a week. Some psychics ask, Where do you talk to God? For me, the ideas come when I’m in the bathtub or when I’m swimming. Water, it does something. And I move through different genres—that’s how I avoid writer’s block. So I’ll write a poem or draw a cartoon or work on a novel. Or I’ll write an essay. I get to reach a lot of people on Facebook.
This interview was from 2016. All seems like it would still hold, except perhaps for that comment about Facebook.
I finished reading Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. I loved it. Looking back, I see how time is an important character in the novel. Time that passes, time that doesn’t, and us as readers wondering what time has done and is doing to the Vignes twins, their mother, and the people in their lives since the twins ran away decades ago. Time makes up the five parts of the novel as well: 1968, 1978, 1968, 1982, and 1985/1988. I won’t say why, but in the end, time collapses through the twins’ mother. The consequences of liner time are no more, or at least not how I expected when The Reunion happens. Looking at the five divisions of the novel and their order, I guess this could be a signal against the linearity of time – that it won’t matter in the end how we think it will – because it has folded over onto itself.
I also finished Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and Colson Whitehead’s 2011 zombie apocalypse novel Zone One. Perhaps more thoughts on those in the future, but for the moment, I’ll say I had a difficult time appreciating Zone One. A friend who is a zombie novel aficionado has ranked it second on his “all time” list (World Word Z is his #1). When one critic wrote that the heavy and unpredictable use of flashbacks in Zone One “deny the reader any feeling of narrative satisfaction, through denseness and obfuscation,” I can say I felt that. But I also think I get that Whitehead was trying to represent in narrative form the Post Apocalypse Stress Disorder (referred to as “PASD”) that all of the characters suffer from. “PASD” sounds like past, and that’s where flashbacks take you. Get it? I’ll still take The Girl With All the Gifts as my #1 novel featuring zombies, but it’s partly for how it affords a kind of reading about teaching and education.
No writing this week, and that’s fine. I took the week off to read in full, as you might detect above.
Mixes I’m playing
Strictly Rockers Jamaican Roots etc. mix by DJ Patience. Sunday afternoon gardening soundtrack.
Dub Hi Fi Session 7 from Dub Hi Fi over on Mixcloud.
Heartical Roots by DJ Vadim. You see the trend recently, right?
Reissued Philly soul in this short LP by Mitzi Ross.
Records I’m spinning & sampling
Late 1970s soul from Columbus, Ohio. The WEE record was reissued a while back by Numero, but I managed to land a gifted, original copy through my friend J. Rawls.
Funk from Hawai’i. This standout track, “Hunk of Heaven,” has been reissued on Jazzman records, but this week I got into the deeper cuts of the LP in a studio session with a collaborator.
Former member of the Supremes, Jean Terrell, takes off in this rocket ship of a track.
Last year around this time I sent out issue #24 about conspiracies and designs.