Monday, July 27, 2009

Part 13 - cheese and tubing and a daiquiri

hey there,

so things are in slight disarray with the order being messed up this week - but not to worry. it appears the tale of Rowan and her adventures are straight forward enough.

Are you still in New York though? or have you disappeared to the wilds of Wisconsin, eating cheese and galavanting about? I spent yesterday drifting down the Delaware river in an inflatable tube, consuming beer and happily moving about a mile an hour.

What a wonderful way to spend a lazy saturday afternoon - I've become fairly good at not spending money on entertainment now that I'm unemployed - and let me tell you, things are looking pretty nasty out there in terms of picking up work.

But, back to Rowan, because her adventures are much more fun than discussing my future career plans. In part 13, we begin with Rowan confronting Matt Cater about his presence in the greenhouse the previous night. Matt refuses to be caught with his pants down, and actually gets angry (sort of reminding me of the idea that the best defense is a good offense; you know... go straight for the jugular etc. etc.). He almost threatens poor little Rowan, telling her that it's for her own good that she not say anything to her aunt (this confrontation is occuring in the room where Mr Chao fell to his death a week before), however Rowan manages to persuade him to let her in on the secret...but not in the house, they must meet in the Tibetan Museum (we really must take a field trip to this museum). Rowan of course gets angry at the reminder of the Tibetan Museum as this is where Matt had promised to take her, but ended up cancelling and leaving her in the hands of the smarmy Reshevsky to act as her tour guide (who I admit may be the best written character in the novel).

Enter Aunt Lucy, who is clearly unimpressed with the continued attention that Matt is directing at her niece. The two of them disappear off somewhere together. Then the delightfully wicked Reshevky enters, and suddenly the next page of text becomes incomprehensible. It is marked with vigorous pencil scribbles in an attempt to delete much of the ensuing conversation between Rowan and Reshevksky. What was also particularly interesting was the appearance of the word 'out' typed repeatedly in the margins down this entire page - an interesting way of communicating something to your editor.

I did enjoy this masked out conversation though between Reshevsky and Rowan, despite the author's attempt to delete it. Reshevsky gets fresh, pinning Rowan to the tree and accusing her of not having 'much intimate knowledge of the male sex'! Unfortunately the last paragraph of their exchange is genuinely illegible so what exactly transpired that hot morning will never be known. My section ends with the two of them re-entering the house where Matt and Lucy are drinking daiquiris, and enquiring politely about what places in the city Rowan still wants to visit.

so, back over to you. No daiquiris for me this hot sunday afternoon, but if I'm lucky, a beer and some barbeque.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Part 11.5 - candles and fireworks, and lost geraniums

What a wonderful surprise bumping into you at TBD in Greenpoint. I'd never been there before, and we were only there because we had just left the concert at the Williamsburg waterfront. And the world is still intact - we didn't implode (see below)

nor did the world stop turning... apparently the cosmic universe doesn't care if we communicate with one another outside the established boundaries of Rowan and the Greenhouse. I actually had a very pleasant, almost picture perfect New York weekend - biking, a picnic on Governor's Island on Saturday, and Sunday brunch followed by a great free show by the Dirty Projectors in Williamsburg.

So it appears there was a mistake when distributing our pages - I in fact had two sections in a row, so part 12, which you just emailed me, takes place after what I read tonight! ah ha! we face our first test... is this really section 11.5? What if I had deliberately witheld this portion from you? did you even notice? was your section more disjointed than normal?

My portion continues directly along from part 11 ; as you may remember, Rowan had to go to the greenhouse to find a new pot and soil for her geraniums, and Kee was taking her (remember this is the middle of the night and our Rowan has a case of the heebie-jeebies). At the greenhouse they find Ah Sing, hanging out and reading a newspaper for which he is admonished for by Kee, for slacking on his guard duties. 'What on earth could he be guarding?' Rowan wonders...

Ah Sing leads her through a maze of locked doors, piles equipment, tubs of soil, and the occasional strange-looking plant. Rowan tries to get Ah Sing to explain what all the locked doors and chicken wire are for - what on earth could be so precious that requires a night guard? But he resists her questioning. And here we get to the second (at least in my mind) climax of the novel so far; the first being the death of the monk. As Ah Sing makes his way out of the room where Rowan found her pot, his flashlight passes over a figure, and it is ... dum dum de dum... Matthew Cater! Ah Sing doesn't notice though, and Rowan says nothing, in fact distracts Ah Sing so as to protect Matt. My portion ends with Rowan finding a very glum Aunt Lucy at her desk...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Part 12 - Billy Joel, Schwartzy and nostalgia

Glad to have you back, Cee Mak.

Sometimes when I say your name I add it to the end of a line in Billy Joel's "Movin' Out": he's-trading-in-his Chevy-for-a-Caroline Mak Mak Mak Mak. Your name pops up on my phone, and, blammo, I'm belting out Billy Joel. Don't think less of me, please...just thought you like to know.We sent the letter announcing the gallery closing last week. I'm sure you saw it. Kind of sad, huh? I couldn't help run a montage through my head of all the nonsense that took place over the past two years. It's strange about nostalgia; how you can't force the sentimental component to sink into your conscious in real time, it has to steep. When Caren told me we were hanging it up, I knew the presence of CGFA would germinate into some kind of profound feeling, but as hard as I tried I couldn't discern what shape it was going to take. Only now am I beginning to sense it. It's bittersweet and very defined by the first year, mostly, when the enterprise seemed the most real; art fairs and show changes, the storage facility. Steve Reynolds, somehow. Schwartzy. Drunk man. Xenia. Jeeez, so much stuff.
This month is going to be so strange.

But not as strange as Rowan''s that for a segue??

I believe my five pages mark somewhat of an impasse for Ms. Lamb. Though it's not Anna Karenina or Finnegan's Wake, I'd say the Greenhouse has thus far been well-paced and resolute in its modest mission. In this section, though, I sensed a bit of uncertainty and conflict in the author's voice, mainly through how Ms. Lamb is seen through Rowan's eyes. A preponderance of the description of Lucy is dedicated to telling us about her rather than indicating the same through actions. For instance, Rowan observes, "When there were no men around her, some of her bright aura seemed to diminish, the air of ageless loveliness faded, and she became suddenly older. Just more human, closer to the realities of life and death." We've heard this general description several times now, but it feels more clumsy in this section. Such passages add very little to Lucy's character for the purposes of the story, but Lamb keeps going back and gnawing on it again anyway. It seems to me that as the story advances, Lamb is redoubling her effort to build Lucy into a psychologically complex, conflicted and paradoxical character, though, no matter how much she tells us about all her facets, it always comes across as a Jekyll-and-Hyde contrivance.
I feel sympathy for her because, I sense a sincere desire to author a deeper and more meaningful character in Lucy, though the nature of the story holds her back. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the most convincing character so far is Reshevsky, and he's also the most absurd and cartoonish. This is obviously a story that is action and event heavy, and Reshevsky serves those events faithfully. The told-not-shown portions of Lucy's character are forced and repetitive; however, to me, they seem to reflect an attempt by Lamb to explore the more touching sides of the human condition than the goings-on at Pleasant Plains would allow. You know, can't we all sympathize with the notion of wanting our art to find purchase in a more relevant universe...doesn't every weatherman for a FOX affiliate in Lubbock, TX secretly aspire to being Walter Cronkite breaking into As the World Turns in 1963 to tell us the president has died? Doesn't every session drummer for Tom Petty wish he or she (probably he) had written "A Change is Gonna Come?"
Maybe that's too dramatic, but I think there's a part of all of us that happily geeks out with our art and ends up loving the details...hell, I get really into blowing ball-point pens onto 12-inch panels. I spend days on end scrutinizing the fine marks made by drizzled ballpoint pen ink. I even get excited to show my work to visitors to my studio, thinking there's a even a remote chance that I can convey or recreate in them the same enthusiasm I feel constantly. They usually enjoy the trip through my practice, but the iridescence of the pen, the fine lines, the bleed of the resin...that's my nerdy headspace, not theirs. And even despite my overall contentment with what I do, I'd be lying if I said I never emerged from the intoxicating minutiae thinking about the possibility of taking one of those thousands of pens and instead of blowing the ink out of it, I could make it write something half as profound and timeless as the last few pages of the Great Gatsby. I think Antonia is getting the itch to create something more profound, too.

My section is basically a pledge by Rowan to not sit idly while mayhem and mischief consume the farm. She balks at Reshevsky's offers to take her sightseeing, as well as Lucy's suggestions and urgings to cut her stay short. Rowan is going to figure it all out...if it kills her (my words not hers.)

Did you ever see that movie with Jennifer Lopez where she's some kind of karate chopping, spurned ex- wife or girlfriend and she goes out and basically kicks every man's ass in the world who doesn't treat a lady with respect?? I didn't either, but I saw the prieviews...and they're dancing through my head right now.

Kick some ass, Rowan!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Part 11 - candles and fireworks, and lost geraniums

So I'm back in the US - and made it just in time for this country's Independence Day. I realized I kept almost kept calling the July 4th holiday, 'June 4th' - referring to the Tiananmen Square crackdown, 20 years ago. I had also arrived back in Hong Kong just in time for the 20th anniversary of that, an event marked by the biggest candlelight vigil in 19 years:

And so a month later, I'm back in the US, in time for another '4th', this time to be marked with sparklers and bbq, rather than candles and solemnity.

I must admit, I'm feeling rather adrift. much more so than when I was in hong kong. Trying to get my studio back into order wasn't very productive (my unairconditioned space was stifling). But since it's only Tuesday morning, I have the the rest of the week to get super productive....

My section began with Rowan touring the city with Reshevsky, for what seems like a week, although there are no actual details about where they go, leading me to think that maybe our author wasn't that familiar with Manhattan; call her a bridge-and-tunnel writer. And Rowan spends a lot of time agonizing over Matt Cater - specifically wondering about his relationship with her aunt - he seems exclusively bound to the aunt, yet no obvious tokens of affection are exchanged. I do enjoy the nuggets of bizarre information that specifically locate the time and age this text was written, though; Rashevsky explains the aunt's use of Chinese workers, specifically referring to Ah Sing as 'being fresh from the burial of the last Manchu Empress' and the others as 'more recent refuees from the conflict of the two Chinas'. Wonderful stuff!!

Oh, and there is some ridiculous attempt at a marriage proposal from Rashevsky (at Rowan). I'm not sure if this detail will end up being relevant. What is clear though, is that Reshevksy and Matt Cater have a mutual dislike for one another.

And your section looks to be an exciting one. Rowan, in an act of clumsiness, breaks a flowerpot holding geraniums one evening.

This leads to her reluctantly heading downstairs to her aunt's study, where her aunt and Kee are deep in conversation and clearly annoyed to see her. Rowan insists that the geraniums need a new pot immediately, so her aunt directs to her the greenhouse to Ah Sing, something Rowan is not at all keen to do. Kee ends up leading her through the house and yard to the dark greenhouse.... dum dum de dum.... I'm looking forward to finding out what goes down...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Part 10 - Sparklers, Flying J truckstops and ominous conversations

Hey there, champion.

Third of July here...I guess it is there, too, but without the cultural significance of being the eve of your independence day. Does the patriotic American part of you light some sparklers in honor of our struggle?? I'm at work. I'm actually the ONLY one at work..the rest of my co-workers are at various local beaches and Heidi's in the north woods of Wisconsin on a pontoon boat. I was a little upset (read: bitter) earlier, but I'm hanging out on a rooftop with the boys later, so that'll save me from going stir-crazy.

I went to the poisonous plant show at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and was more than a little underwhelmed. What they advertised as a curated show was no more than the result of some volunteers walking around the grounds placing signs next to anything that could be construed as "dangerous." Not "poisonous," but dangerous. Cut grass and sugarcane were on the list; cut grass because it can slice you open and sugarcane because it can be distilled into "demon rum." Quite a stretch, I think...though maybe they saw me last week in Los Angeles and THEN made their decision to include it.

I was hoping to see some nasty-looking purple berries that would stop your heart in two minutes just from looking at them. I wanted to come face to face with plants that sprayed ricin out of their supersoaker-like flowers. I'm guessing there might have been some liability issues with my version of the show. My mind just drifted for a second and I thought how funny it was that I went to a poisonous plant show, because I'm reading this book about poisonous plants. I think I need some rum!

My section is ferociously marked up. It looks like the wall of a bathroom stall at a Flying J truckstop.Aside from being a very messy section, it is also a very intriguing section. Rowan's bitterness toward Cater is palpable. She admits to being resolved to let Reshevsky escort her through New York. Before heading upstairs, Rowan reflects about how her aunt's doting on Cater makes her seem like a fragile adolescent. After this thought Rowan heads upstairs to freshen up her clothes before her sojourn to the city. Looking for Millie the maid, Rowan happens to overhear a conversation between her aunt and James Kee in his office. James implores Aunt Lucy to "...get rid of her." We are to presume that "her" refers to Rowan.

A very interesting editor's note springs up in the margin, here. He or she wonders if the aunt is being sarcastic, believing that "disposing of her" is a bit drastic, even within the fantastical set of circumstances unfolding in "The Greenhouse."

The two go on to debate about how dangerous it is to keep Rowan around. Aunt Lucy wants to keep her, Kee wants her gone. Kee then instructs Lucy to "do as he says" demonstrating who is actually running things at Pleasant Plains Farm. Millie then discovers Rowan in the hall and the two skitter hushed into Rowan's room, agreeing each to keep whatever they hear a secret.

A few minutes after the terrifying event, Rowan's fears begin to fade, though in their place a "conviction" sets in that something is "seriously wrong" at Pleasant Plains Farm., no doi!!

The chapter breaks and the tone waves on a beach. Serene/Terror. Serene/Terror.

You know, Boz Scaggs's "Lido Shuffle" is a very underrated song...Caren's gone so I'm listening to music...low volume, though.

So the last page looks like one of my world history papers in 10th grade. It's got red lines and margin notes all over it. It's just missing the "C -." Only about twenty words survive. In the margin someone characterizes the drastic tonal shift between the end of the "get rid of her chapter" and a more positive interlude in the next with Reshevsky and Rowan running through New York like school girls (cue Diana Ross's "I"m Comin' Out.") The strange thing about the notes is that they appear to be written by Antonia; however, they are written as a third person: "An accident with overtones of murder and an ominous conversation have just occurred, building up an apprehensive mood. Now this mood is completely dispelled. The frightening events are forgotten with the lighthearted beginnings of this chapter."

Perhaps Ms. Lamb is just trying to keep the editor focused. I dunno.

That's all I got sistah.

You're up..oh one other thing that makes this whole operation so strange and serendipitous; the girl that replaced you, Phoebe, looks EXACTLY like Rowan on the book jacket. It's kind of freaky. Pictures are forthcoming - she wouldn't let me photograph her yesterday..said she wanted to get some sun at the beach first.

Ah, the beach.