Archive for May, 2009


May 29, 2009

One of my freelance jobs these days is very complicated.  I was only able to explain it succinctly after I had to write a composition about what I do for my beginning French class.  I wrote:  Je travaille pour un homme qui veut ecrirer un livre a la histoire de sa famille.  I am working for a man who wants to write a book about his family.  Parse que il n’ecrit pas, et j’ecris beacoup, j’escris son livre.  Because he does not write, and I do a lot of writing, I am writing his book.

It is also a science fiction novel set on Mars in the future, containing a great deal of magic realism, including several characters who are reincarnated again and again through time.  But all that part is for another post.  For now, what I am working on is genealogy.  For the past few days, I’ve been making a chart of all these ancestors — my employer’s ancestors — the 100 or so who lived in some part of Vermont from about 1750 to 1850. We’re making the chart so we can create a narrative and some locations for characters out of their stories.

Last night, in the rain, I went to see the sax player and all around artist Matana Roberts at the Firehouse.  She performed part of her “Coin Coin Project,” which is named after an ancestor of hers who was called Coin Coin.  Part of the project involved a slideshow of her grandmother’s family pictures, and she also talked about what learning about her family history, and family history in general, teaches you.

pic from her website

pic from her website

Now there are lot of differences between the genealogy she is working with, and the one I am working with.

Two big ones:

She is working with her own family; I am working with someone else’s family.

Her ancestors were slaves and she has their bills of sale; I am working with possibly the WASPiest genealogy I have ever encountered.

However, as she pointed out, there are some universal aspects of working with this sort of thing.

One of them is tragedy. Life is tragic, and history is tragic, and it is all tragedy getting into the present so that you could exist.  It is miraculous, that after all that hardship, you exist!  You too, will experience that inevitable tragedy!  That tragedy is there in her slides, and it is in the excel spreadsheet I have been making.

Let me give you an example from the chart:

Timothy, son of Eli and Abi.  b.1771.  d.1775.

Polly, daughter of Eli and Abi. b.1774.  d.1777.

Eli Jr, son of Eli and Abi.  b.1780.  d.1785.

Unnamed twins, sons of Eli and Abi.  b.1782.  d.1782.

Unnamed boy, son of Eli and Abi.  b.1783.  d.1784.

The most universal thing that genealogy can tell you is that you will die.  Matana pointed this out last night at her performance.

Here is a picture of someone as a baby.  They died.

Here is someone playing baseball, at a wedding, at home, in front of the house, graduating from college.  They died.

You look at hundreds of people, hundreds of stories.  All of their stories end with death.  Some of them had six children who died before they were five years old, and some of them had twelve children who all outlived them, but they all died, and then all their children who outlived them died too, and then you are at the bottom of the chart, you are on the chart, and you are going to die too.

I don’t mean this in a gloomy way.  This is what life is!  Isn’t it amazing to be alive?

The Exciters

May 26, 2009

and also, dee dee sharp, and some people doing the mashed potato and making it look kind of like a cool dance to do.  there are a lot of instructional videos on youtube if you want to learn.

and this one too, maybe the best song ever, by claudine clark.  I don’t know who these kids are, but they are awesome.


May 24, 2009

Oh geez, it has been awhile since I have posted.  That is because it is MAY, and I have been busy being OUTSIDE.  This morning it is pouring rain and the Burlington marathon in happening — I can see those runners going by in the rain from the studio window.  Everybody is walking down to the waterfront to watch those sufferers bring it in, nipples bleeding, and get their silver superhero blankets.

The point of green land you can see in this picture is where our garden is — looking, in this view, from North Beach.  We’ve done a lot of work in it this week, and things that are starting to come up include: peas, radishes, mustard, mesclun, arugula, calendula, poppies, and carrots.  My transplants of onions, scallions, leeks, shallots, and cabbage are not doing so well since the light frost we had earlier this week, but there’s at least one plant of each hanging in there.  We’ve also planted corn, three kinds of potatoes, beets, beans, spinach, herbs, and nasturtiums.  All that is really left is to put in our pepper, tomato, and tomatillo transplants, probably next week, and the bottom third, which is all mounds of squash, cukes, melons and pumpkins.

Of course, while you are planting things to grow, all the edible greens that plant themselves are coming up too.  This is lambs quarters, or chenopodium album, which likes disturbed soil like your garden beds or compost piles.  You can eat it fresh or cooked any way, like spinach, but it’s more flavorful, nutty and a bit sharp.  It usually has magical, purple-pink fairy dust on it.  There are also plenty of nettles, garlic mustard, ground ivy, wild violets, and the bitter last bits of dandelion greens around.  Another new plant I just learned about is Japanese Knotweed:

It looks like this, and it’s invasive, and taking over Burlington in a BIG way.  As soon as it was pointed out to me, I started noticing it everywhere.  If you walk up (or, ahem, bike all the way up, like I did on Wednesday) Depot Street from the lake, look up on your right and you will see a FOREST of it.  Anyway, if you cut the stalks when they are young, about a foot tall, you can slice them up to cook and they taste like mild rhubarb.

Speaking of rhubarb, today Penny Cluse has a cornbread french toast special with rhubarb compote.

How to draw a bunny

May 5, 2009

I watched the documentary about Ray Johnson this week, How to Draw a Bunny.

It was great.  Ray Johnson was a pop artist, and he made beautiful collages.  I wish the movie had been How to Make Collages like Ray Johnson, but of course no one could ever learn.



The movie also talks about his close friend, Dorothy Podber, who of course is known for shooting a bullet through a stack of Andy Warhol’s Marilyns.  I am no big fan on Andy Warhol, and not into romanticizing that art scene…..Dorothy and I would NOT be friends, since I would be way too scared to be her friend…..but I love the gesture.  Andy Warhol was kind of an asshole, and she totally knew it, and didn’t care, because she was too busy LIVING ART.  Dorothy Podber and Ray Johnson also gave a friend a present which was a clock with no hands, and when you opened it, a gold-painted rat fell out.

Ray Johnson founded the New York Correspondance School, which was a bunch of people sending art through the mail to each other, adding pieces on as they went.



Lucid dreams

May 3, 2009

I had a semi-lucid dream this morning as I snoozed past my alarm.

I dreamed that I lived in a series of apartment buildings that were like a huge laboratory of glass greenhouses.  I had an upstairs door to my apartment — inside was a catwalk filled with amazing plants.  Below was all my stuff and my bed and all that.

While I was opening the door and walking in, I thought to myself in the dream — what a great dream idea, when I wake up, I should sketch it.  Someone is going to want to design this fantastic apartment idea, perhaps I will.

And that’s the first step in lucid dreaming — recognizing that you are dreaming and differentiating actions in your dreams from actions awake.  I knew that I was dreaming, while I was in the dream, and I knew that the dream wasn’t real….I knew it was only a source for ideas.  But I also believed the greenhouse/apartment idea was real enough to translate into reality.

The only problem is that the greenhouse thing is not really an interesting or good idea to me when I’m awake.

The next step will be to decide to do something in my dream!  If I had sketched it in my dream, it would have been less of a disappointment.  Next time, in a dream, I will try to tell myself — sketch it now, so you will remember when you are awake. I wonder where that will get me.

The dream was probably inspired by going to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens last weekend.


Image is an illustration by Maud Purdy, former staff artist of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

(one of) the longest covered bridges in the United States!

May 3, 2009

In the spirit of giving the people what they want, here’s another post about covered bridges.  Seriously, my one post about a covered bridge gets about 10 times as many reads as anything else on my random, personal bog.  Maybe the world is hungry for a covered bridge blog?  Or are kids writing reports using google?  Here you go, hungry mysterious internet!


This, of course, is the majestic Cornish-Windsor bridge, spanning the Connecticut River between Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont.

It is a town lattice truss, and it is 460 feet long, making it one of the longest in the United States!  Of course, note that it is a two-span, while the North Blenheim bridge is a single-span. Which is more impressive?  I say North Blenheim, but you be the judge for yourself!

I took this picture from the train, after the conductor reminded us all to look.  Train sidenote: I also eavesdropped on a conversation where the assistant conductor explained how his lifelong dream had been to work on the trains, and now here he was…. the same sort of magic doesn’t happen on buses — take the train!

My dad worked on this bridge in 1987, and I still have a t-shirt from it’s re-opening after it was fixed.  For some reason, that “Chesterfield Associates” shirt is one of my most cherished possessions.

Want to learn more about historic trusses?  Why not read my dad’s book about Historic American Roof Trusses?


Train travel

May 2, 2009

What can I say to advocate for train travel to you?

I love trains, maybe more than most people.  I wrote my undergrad thesis about trains and American history, and I just LOVE them.  Train stations beautiful, and trains connected cities and encouraged growth in the right way, I believe.

That’s why I was so heartened to hear that Obama is investing $13 billion into high-speed rail development in the US.  If we don’t all die of the flu first, this will be a very good thing for our country.  I get worried when I see all those rail-to-trail conversions — a great thing for bikes in the short run, but I don’t want to see our rail infrastructure disappear.


I took the train to New York last weekend.  Let me tell you, even just the atmosphere at the station is so refreshing……I waited with an excited crowd, and when the train whistled and came rushing down towards us my heart started beating fast and the little kids around me jumped and shouted.  I got on and settled into my roomy, roomy seat, knowing that I could move around the train as I pleased during the 9.5 hours I would be on it.  Which I know is a long time, but if you bring lots of snacks and entertainment it’s really a pleasure.


Of course, the view is beautiful, especially the Vermont part of the ride.  It’s interesting to see all the towns I know really well from the train perspective, not a car perspective.  Here is Brattleboro:


If you look closely, you can also catch site of people’s secret little spots down by the train tracks — I saw a lot of little campsites, tents, hideaways, party spots, and many, many old 40 bottles.  The history of this sort of culture and train track landscape is best transferred through this excellent book, one of my favorites:


I highly recommend it!  I also saw train buffs, watching the trains — not the Amtrak, of course, but some obscure freights.

So take the train!  You won’t regret it.  I don’t even have to mention what a good thing it is to do, environmentally.  It’s also very quiet.  You might also meet people on the train.  And national train day is coming up; it’s May 9th!