Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Signs that Might Be Omens Say I'm Going...

THOSE WORDS ARE FROM my second favorite James Taylor song ("fire and rain" takes the top tier), Fittingly, they are a song about returning to Carolina, which is precisely where I am headed in less than 48 hours. But rather than the oft-repeated chorus that gives "Carolina in My Mind" it's name, and from my experience its overwhelming local appeal, a line buried in the third verse describes my experiences now...

The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say about the word "Omen."
I. Simple uses.
An event or phenomenon regarded as a portent of good or evil; a prophetic sign, an augury.
2. As a mass noun: prophetic significance; indication of good or evil to come. Freq. with modifying adjective in of good (ill, etc.) omen. Also personified.
II. Compounds. 3. omen-bearing, -hunter, hunting, -monger. omen bird, a bird used as an omen-animal. omen-animal, an animal whose behaviour or body parts are used as a way of divining future events.

It is precisely omens which I find around me in the last couple of days...There are a few strange occurrences, meaningless except for their proximity to my leaving, and their prior existence in my mind as conditions upon which I would feel it was okay to go...

1. I heard a Beetles song in public for the first time in 5 months of living in England. It was in an antiques shop on the north end of Portobello Road on last Saturday morning, which was rainy and cold. (Such is late May in London: High of 48F, 100% chance of rain, winds N-NE at 20-30mph) I stayed in the store just to listen to the song, knowing full well that I couldn't afford any of the old biscuit tins, furniture, or jewelry he was selling, and I was delighted to find that he was playing the entire album...
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this omen was not that I have been thinking for months about the odd lack of Beatles merchandise, or even an open acknowledgment of their music, or any other aspect of the "British Invasion", what was stranger is that the Beatles song I was hearing was a cover of Louis Armstrong's "Sweet Georgia Brown". I didn't know the Beatles had even covered this song. And the geographical proximity of that woman's name, to my home, was uncanny... (The most respectable bit of audio-visual recording of this song I can find is Anita O'day performing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958...but their is something so odd about a white woman singing the praise of a black woman's body...but, it seems to escape dandy onlookers, who look rather bored.)

2. I filled the final page of my Moleskine notebook...I wish I could stay I begun it when I got to London. Alas it was a month and a half later, or so...until then I was using an old notebook that was begun back stateside. However, flipping through it is a veritable recap of my journey here through a particularly beautiful aspect to me...the fragments of life i found so inspiring that I had to make note of them immediately, and new ideas that came surging into my head, or sketches of train passengers or birds, street names, beginnings of poems, etc... So, I bought a new notebook, and listed my American address inside the front cover. The smell of newly exposed paper is sweet...

3. The roses bloomed in Regent's Park. I have been sitting vigil from time to time in the circle of sticks bordering a pond over the last months...waiting... Well, the glory has come! Yesterday, every known color of beautiful rose, sweet-smelling and aptly, poetically named by shiny black plaques were there waiting for me...

4. My map of London fell apart at the binding. I live on page 38, for the record.

5. Yesterday, after my jaunt through the roses, I sat down in the library, and looked up to find a rainbow painted in the sky just above a few flats built in a typical Northwest London style...all brick with piped vents emerging from the roof line...

<> I think sweet Londontown is saying to me, "It's okay can go." (But when I need her, I'll be back.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Some things that are inspiring (to me) and free (for everyone)!

1. Poems on the Underground...if you can't take a ride on the Tube, and spot one of these treasures, you can always surf their sight, which includes streamed audio of poems read aloud...or buy a book or CD...whatever you fancy!

2. In Our Time Podcast at provides informative discussions by academia's leaders for 45 minutes once a week, on every topic imaginable!

3. Other fabulous blogs, including that which provides readers with (The) Dr. Gardner Campbell's Wisdom(!)

4. Picasa Photo Editing Program from Google. You too can edit your photos to make it look like you have a professional camera...

5. The Hype Machine...a site which archives music blog entries, allowing you to search by artist for blog postings and downloadable mp3s...or just browse what's most popular...

What Will I Say When They Ask Me: "How Was London?"

IT IS THE SURREALITY OF THIS EXPERIENCE which permeates me now. I am in the library. Read: I am supposed to be studying. One more final exam on Thursday, and then it is homeward bound for me. (Don't get me started on the idiocy of the English education system...I finished classes 2 months before my first exam...)

In the last couple of days, I find myself feeling utterly overcome by a profound sadness at leaving this city behind, to the point of paralysis. And then, just as swiftly, I emerge with a sense of mobility which is beautifully stimulating, after so many months of suspension...even stagnation. You see, I have never had so much free time as in the last 5 months. One would think that this situation would be one of supreme liberty. Except that it isn't, in a modern world of instantaneous knowledge, perpetual motion, and burgeoning technologies. To stand still as a human being in the present (perhaps especially in the "developed" world) is akin to that moment in evolutionary history, when fishes first shimmied onto land and made their gills breathe gaseous oxygen. In other words, we are at a junction.

There is no doubt of the cultural relativity of this aversion to free-time. In France, it is illegal to work more than 35 hours a week, in London I see advertisements daily which encourage Londoners to take long weekends, and more vacations. In Japan, and in China, work and school last through all of the light hours of the day, with extras, such as language classes and music lessons, designated to the time after dinner and before are a symptom of weakness.

I don't think it is sad that I crave structure. I don't believe in nostalgia for a time in which people worked less, and whittled more. That is a near-impossibility in the world we live in now. (It is not a devolution in which we (humanity) participate, but just a sort of constant metamorphosis through history... )

These last 5 months have actually been surprisingly productive for me. (On the whole. At first, I experienced a complete loss-of-voice and creative power because of being completely uprooted upon arriving here in January.) After that, I wrote a lot, sporadically, and devoured books quickly and insatiably. I spent hours in museums, drifted through parks, took trips, probed for new music, wrote postcards, took photos, painted, sketched, and created clothes...

All of this creativity, though, was tempered by the threat of days "wasted." I am not one to rise early, if I have no destination at which to be. I crave structure, as an individual, and as a product of my cultural and familial heritage. There were days where the plethora of entertainments and choices laid before me in London were paralyzing. Jean-Francois Lyotard alludes to this in one of his works...the idea that too many choices is a kind of prison in which the modern person finds themselves. We suffocate under the weight of infinite freedoms.

So, how will I answer the question: "HOW WAS YOUR SEMESTER ABROAD IN LONDON?" Undoubtedly, the answer will change with the audience, with the passage of time, with stepping off of that plane back on American soil, with regard to how much of an answer is actually desired... But the answer will be something like this: people should do this. It suspends your reality for a while, to the degree that is possible.

My experience was by no means average. I will not tell other people to study abroad, or not to. I will not tell them what it is "like." I can't pretend to know what they will get from it, where it will fall in the general trajectory of their lives, what it will do to them... (Is it contradictory, having made this declaration, to know that I will in fact answer some of these questions in the course of polite conversations? At least I cannot see myself answering them, or indeed describing "my" London, without tempering it with the obvious...this was my experience, through my eyes, my ears, my hands, my nose, my mouth, my brain, my heart, my soul...)

Maybe I am even less inclined to provide a stock description of Study Abroad, because I was not a part of an American program...I simply entered a foreign university, without a study abroad program, amongst students who are here permanently. They have established social networks. I found myself in the position of a transfer student who would not stay. It is artificial, to break into a three year process, and exit it again, bypassing the beginning and the end. For some people this breeds a kind of freedom which will make the 5months they spend abroad into the most fun time of their lives. For others, (and I fall into this category), a natural inclination to solitude and intensity, will reap a very powerful interaction with the place itself--with the city--rather than with the acquaintances acquired.)

The process of living in a foreign country for a finite amount of time, parallels so many other experiences more common in our culture. It is like entering a university community, knowing you will exit it. So, to my friends who have just graduated, I feel an nth of what you feel. I am excited to go home; I am tremendously sad to leave London. Mostly, it is as if I am wearing my nervous system outside of my skin. Everything is overwhelmingly pleasurable and painful, at once.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fashionosophy(?): "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

THIS PIECE SHOULD BE SUBTITLED, 'It is Possible to Look Cool in London for 1£ or Less.' I am packing, and therefore recounting the many gifts that londontown has bestowed upon me, with her bounty of fashionistas and never-ending pine for the dapper, drag, hipster, goth, punk, hippie, intellectual-blase, femme-fatal....and every other fashion-defined character known to the wider world. There is kente cloth here, and a never-ending rainbow of saris, monk's habits, the clergyman's somber black, children's uniforms... London is a town of trends, and virtually invented the notion of "insta-fashion" with stores like Topshop, which are designed to deliver a new range of trends every couple of weeks, restarting a feeding frenzy for whatever colored skinny pant, day-glow accessory, or strange set of glasses is the MUST-HAVE of this moment. The trend-chasers inhabit just one of the fashion bubbles of this city. They are not the majority, but more-so than in other European cities, give 13-22 year-old Londoners a homogeny, even if their sameness is defined by chameleon-like changeability.

I remember posting early in my 5months something entitled "has anyone seen my ability to communicate?" about the disorienting affect of this multiplicity of fashion signals. The artsy niche exists, just above the poverty line, and in some sort-of dance with the insta-fashioners, characterized by open condescension and veiled influence on the part of both groups. An article just last week in The London Paper, hailed this season's concert-going chic with the mantra "wear it like you just don't care." So the point is, then, to spend more time, money, & energy on your clothing than most of the free world, and yet look as if you simply wake up in the morning and put on whatever pants happened to be draped over the love seat on your way out the door?

This raises ethical questions for me...I think. Are we all fakes? Is London a city of people in which complete embrace of materialism has taken place. And materialism, a vice which every major religion warns against, is rife--but why? and to what end?

A sort of philosophy of fashion is something I circle often. I wish Susan Sontag had just written a book called "Regarding the Fashion of Others" because then someone could tell me what the hell is going on...and what it means. Instead, I just participate. And while I participate I struggle. I try to make what I know is a social convention (that of wearing clothes) into a vent for personal expression. Which is trite. And not exactly what I mean. Damn. I will try again. Why do I put on clothes that are a bit 'strange' and often provoke comments leading to conversations with perfect strangers on trains of in coffee shops. I am not talking about the usual "Oh, I love your handbag! Where did you get it?" of my mother's generation. Rather, people like to enlighten me about their interpretation of my dress, and pry until they loose an answer to why I think I wear it. Hence, I feel constantly conflicted in my search for this philosophical summation.

(Just last week a man came and sat at the table I was using in a coffee shop. He asked me why I wear so many representations of the color-spectrum, and whether or not my beads mean I am Buddhist, and why do I alter the clothes I wear?...My standard answer of "because birds, trees, colors, and Buddhas resonate with me..." did not satisfy him in the least. The conversation stretched for an hour, while he told me what he thought it meant...)

What I find interesting about dabbling in being an AMATEUR clothing designer, or even just a seamstress, is that persons demand that you take a greater responsibility for what you wear, if you had some hand in creating it. Some level of skill and what might be called "taste" is certainly involved in selecting and purchasing clothes. This process is something which teeters between a belief in cosmic rendezvous between a person and a garment, and some kind of sophisticated method for sifting through the infinite options for what one wears. And then there are those people who profess to not care at all about choosing their clothes: a) I find it nearly impossible to adopt their mindset, if only for a moment b) I don't think it is true. We are visual creatures. Quoting Walter Lippmann in the year 1922, "Photographs have the kind of authority over imagination today, which the printed word had yesterday, and the spoken word before that. They seem utterly real." I propose that in the 85 years since Lippmann made that statement, we might substitute "the visual" for "photographs"--the visual orientation of our present culture is ubiquitous and moves at the speed of immediacy.

So, fashion, as perhaps one of the earliest forms of visual communication, predating photography, cinematography, and certainly the capacity of sights such as to make a movie "viral" instantly. Fashion is secondary in the visual communicative arts only to the human body itself, and the gestures which it is capable of exercising. In other words, fashion is extraordinarily important. And while I may still find myself a bit overwhelmed about the infinitesimal niches of London's fashion world, at least I know that they matter. The matter a lot.

I intended this post as a kind of brief showcase of the items which I have "thrifted" (bought at second-hand stores, charity shops, and markets) for the equivalent of 2-3 US dollars, in order to prove that cheap fashion can be pursued in this town, and to illustrate the creative, challenging and perhaps primal hunt for the fashion that resonates with you, after it has been discarded by some other human being. Those clothes follow, along with a few which I "crafted" and altered significantly...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

you are a being unto yourself, with whom i have fallen in love, London.

SINCE I SEEM UNABLE to steady myself in this process of leaving London after 5 months, I spent the last several hours packing furiously, and then combing through my notebooks, dislodging a couple of lost ideas for poems i had made note of, which you will find below. I am eager to hold the people i love best in this world close again. But, London, to me you are a being unto yourself, and with whom I have fallen in love. It's been the steadiness, the humming and the millions, and the parks, and the river, the graceful buildings, the charming chatter, the million million idiosyncracies of a rhythm i've learned to step in time with... It's the city I love. And the city I will miss. Without the companionship of Londontown herself, I would have little life here to speak of...


Bee is blind.
Bee is blind to everything
but symmetry.
Symetros: same measure,
from the Greek.
And they say Galois
was the most romantic mathematician.
Did he glance down
to find the flowers symmetrical enough
to please a bee
on the morning of his violent death?


“Response to the piece ‘Forms Without Life’ by Damien Hirst, at the Tate Britain”

Look at the shells.
Look at the shells that were living
and then calcified
and then died lastly
when you took away the cool
soft flesh inside.
Look at the shells
strung up around your brown ankle.
People kill things to look at them.


“Response to the piece ‘Preserve Beauty’ by Anya Gallacio, at the Tate Britain”

They lose all their petals
bleed brown and drop
from between plastic panels.
Still red at the edges?
I’m surprised.
Isn’t that, after all,
where one first meets the air?


“Perhaps this Is Innocent Love”

She asked no questions
when her mother stood, in the hot train.
She leaned into the sweet calf
of her sleeping brother,
and pressed her bowed cherry lips
to his birthmark,
a small brown island
afloat on a milky sea.



Sulis, to Brittania
you are goddess
most lovely, long-limbed
and marked by fluidity.
Move, move through
the waters you lift from the sea
and lay flat again on the ripening fields.
nestles into you,
like the green clasp
at your chokered neck.

Minnerva, how far
you follow men of leather
thong and helmet tall.
Do you know where you go?
Goddess of wisdom, is it wise
to fight the waters?
You cannot strangle gentle
Sulis, nor rouse her to anger.