Saturday, January 12, 2008


("Corfu Lights and Shadows" by John Singer Sargent, 1909, Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite pencil on paper; a large, high-quality framed print of this has hung at the foot of my bed for 17 years, the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing at night)

At the rest of sounding like Thomas and his Friends, who are psychologically stunted around the issue of Usefulness (and avoiding public humiliation): My definition of art includes what Sharon Bridgforth refers to as "raising the energy". When I create, I seek to not only reflect my perception of reality in such a way that you have a chance at sharing the experience, but I also feel obligated to walk in beauty, to avoid anger or despair as destinations, and to weave into the fabric of my creation a belief that the viewer/reader has just as much expertise about the world as I do.

How well I achieve these goals depends on my skill level that particular day, of course. Holly Near once said that nonmonogamy was a post-patriarchal idea that we were trying to implement in a patriarchal environment. I think this goes for almost any of our best ideals: We have goals, and then we have reality. The tension between the two, the gap, can be extremely productive and even joyous if self-hatred is under control.

I bring this creative ethic to my poetry, my fiction, my essays, and my blog equally. I'm new to blogging, and have tried to learn the craft from reading others' efforts. Some conventions I follow, some I don't. For instance, I don't have a "Blogroll", I have a list of what blogs I'm actually reading regularly. I don't link to something unless I have derived good from it. No trading favors for me. I'm not in this to curry power and influence: I already have that in my life.

I also strive for graphics to accompany my text which offer an added dimension, not just illustrate my words. This means I spend a lot of time sweeping the web for interesting visuals, and my saved images files are enormous. I do my best to credit the creator of the graphic -- this isn't always possible, there's a great deal of anonymous stuff out there, but I search for origin when I have any kind of a clue.

I do this for two compelling reasons. One is the example we set for one another in the 70s, the heyday of lesbian-feminism, to credit our sources. We saw this as a behavior men did not tend to do unless legally or academically required, especially white men: For them, it was all about claiming territory by sneaking it away from others, and building ego through ideas. Our cooperative model, however, led to essays and even fiction being peppered with footnotes at the bottoms of the page, acknowledging the influence/conversation/support of another woman for our comprehension or embellishment of a particular thought. I first noticed it in the pages of DYKE: A Quarterly, but it was common in Sinister Wisdom, Common Lives Lesbian Lives, Chrysalis, Quest, Feminary, etc. Even graphic artists did this, such as Alison Bechdel in her strip Dykes To Watch Out For with her "Tip o'the nibs" squeezed into the margin.

The second reason is that I am assiduously trying to comply with the Web Accessibility guidelines spelled out at Wikipedia. Labeling a graphic means that text recognition software used by a blind computer reader, for example, can hear the caption and description of that image rather than just hitting the alphabet soup of graphics code and skipping over it. The blog server I'm using (Blogger) tends to limit my ability to create large and click-to-enlarge graphics, another accessibility recommendation, but I'm working on that as well.

As I have stated before, I avoid the practice of using some goofy riff to label a link instead of a clear description. This is an obnoxious demand that the reader either click on the link to find out what it's actually about (not all of us have the time and energy to live at our keyboards in this fashion) or ignore what might be something we really want to see. We should have enough information to make a choice. Some big-name political blogs are really terrible about this, and I've gotten into the habit of never clicking on an unclearly-labeled link. If someone won't make the effort to synopsize content into a handful of words, then it must not matter to them very much if I actually go look at it.

Conversely, I was inspired today by Liza Cowan's essay at her blog See Saw about the value of links, the revolutionary impact it's having on our discourse and our ability to not only "follow our bliss" but locate kindred souls out there in Cyberia. Liza says "Links are often my favorite part of blogs. I’ve found some of my most valuable resources by following links, not only in the body of the text but also by following the URL’s embedded in names of reader comments."

I, too, check out the profiles of someone whose work has reached me in some strong way. Ironically, although I knew Liza as a sister leader in our movement for decades, it wasn't until I saw her name in the comments section of a blog (unfortunately, not a blog which allows profiles to come through) that I was motivated to Google her down and commence one of the most rewarding relationships of my life.

(May your friendship spread all over the world -- Shen qing hou yi ji wu zhou)

I think the nature of reality is complex. Usually, more complex than we can comprehend, but dumbing it down in response is a major mistake. The truth is never simple. And art, communication, reform, atonement, any means of growth should simultaneously embrace as much of the complexity as we can see while earnestly attempting to deliver it in a comprehensible form.

One of my mentors, Terry Galloway, a genius of a playwright, dramaturg and director, always stressed that if we have been given an audience, we are not to indulge ourselves at their expense. We have a responsibility to work our asses off, to not intentionally confuse or insult them, to share with trust and goodwill. She was quite fierce about leaving adolescent embarrassment behind, and I often hear her voice in my head when I'm trying to edit a piece.

And, going off on a related tangent, here's a request: When interviewing an artist, please stop asking them the meaning of what they do. The meaning is in the piece itself, and what you get from it. Artists seem to feel compelled to answer these damfool questions with a long string of arcane solipsism which differs from the interviews with football players after a game only in vocabulary. The reason why someone wins a game is because they played better. The reason why an artist did X is because they thought it looked/sounded good. If you want to dissect the artist's psychology, point out that the reason why their faces are mostly expressionless or their conversation tangential is because they lived with a control freak molester, go right ahead but don't ask the artist to participate in it.

So, do offer me feedback and feel free to talk about anything at all in your comments, as long as its not white supremacist, woman-hating, or otherwise oppressive, and you're not simply hyping your own self. (If you do, I'll delete it swiftly.) Aim high, forgive yourself, and as Garrison Keillor says, do good work.

I leave you with a department store product page for HEMA, in the Netherlands, that is a stunning example of how creative a web catalogue can be. Wait patiently for the page to load, then keep you hands off your mouse and watch the place go wild: HEMA.

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