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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lore Segal's Shakespeare's Kitchen

Conventional wisdom in the book world is that collections of short stories don't do nearly as well as novels. There are all sorts of reasons put forth, many of which center on the argument that the modern short story, the kind generated in writers' workshops or published in the New Yorker, is lame. In the introduction to McSweeney's 13, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, Michael Chabon complains about the prevalence of "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story." And in fact, this is a dead-on description of some kinds of short stories.

Nonetheless, I happen to like short stories, or more precisely, I have no problem with the genre. Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman, and Jorge Luis Borges are some of my favorite writers, and they excel at the form. I absolutely adored Angélica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial, Stephen Marché created a fictional body of literature spanning hundreds of years with just a handful of stories, and McSweeney's has put out several great collections, including the one mentioned above. A.S. Byatt, Kate Atkinson, and many others have also written good short stories.

Which brings me to Shakespeare's Kitchen, a collection of short stories I picked up at the library on a whim. These stories are linked, centering around the character Ilka Weisz who was the protagonist of Segal's earlier novel (something I did not know until after I finished the book). Ilka is an expat from Vienna, an academic who comes to work for the Concordance Institute that . . . well, I'm not exactly sure what it does. The stories are perhaps not as plot-heavy as Chabon et al. would like, but together they form a narrative over Ilka's life as she interacts with hapless ivory tower types. I enjoyed the book, though I am content I only borrowed it from the library rather than purchasing it. What struck me most was the writing style -- there is a timeless quality to the way Segal writes, where we seem to glide over events and it is never quite clear what happens when, how much time has passed, or even what decades the book is set in. What I find interesting is that this is an effect I find often in literature with a fantastical element, like Link's or Bender's work, whereas this book is more realistic (well, as realistic as an academic satire can be). The only exception is the climax of the book, where a Japanese student of Ilka's wires a conference on genocide sponsored by the Institute so that the auditorium, the campus, the entire town is subject to the screams of people suffering in concentration camps and the bombing of Japan. As a metaphor (perhaps it is too literal to be called that) for the permanent consequences of atrocities that cannot be erased or ignored by any amount of analysis and talk and study, it is certainly apt, and the pall of World War II hangs over the events of the book, but it seemed a little out of place.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Very Different Pairs of Earrings

Last summer, as a result of watching my Pushing Daisies DVDs (you should too, a show that was practically perfect in every way but doomed by the writers' strike and the public's inexplicable preference for reality TV) and making stuff from The Beaded Garden, I decided to make the daisy earrings from the book (possibly incorporating pie charms). I did not get around to starting the earrings until February, though, and then promptly ran out of white Delica beads. It being Lent, and I foolishly having given up buying craft supplies, I had to wait until after Easter to order more beads. Only I ordered the wrong kind, with a slight translucence. Last week, with the right beads at hand, I finally made the earrings.

First I made a row of petals with the square stitch:
Then I added a second row:
Then I sewed them to a button form covered with yellow fabric:
Finally I strung the button shanks onto a head pin with green glass beads, and voila!
They came out a lot bigger than I thought, so I am not sure about them; I may convert one into a pendant on a green cord and the other into . . . something. I also have to find a way to incorporate pie charms.

Along the way, I screwed up on one set of petals by making some of them too short, and I was too far along before I caught the mistake to undo it. The petals won't go to waste, however, because I have a little tin that holds all sorts of beaded mistakes, false starts, and flawed color choices:
Someday I'll do something with these.

The second set of earrings came about as I was picking up a tiny corner of my craft room to prepare for house guests -- I had some lovely purple stone beads, and I decided to stack them up and make them into earrings:
The smallest beads are dyed purple turquoise, and the medium faceted ones are sugilite, which is hard to find. Unfortunately, I don't remember what the big beads are made from (charoite maybe?), though I remember when and where I bought them (last year, in Lancaster County). This is not the first time that has happened, and really should get into the habit of writing down my purchases. I even have two little books I keep for craft notes and ideas.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Small Wonders

I'm in another show! A teeny one, at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging. The people at the Making Art Work program (one of whom is my instructor at the City Quilter) decided to display through June 30 Artist Trading Cards made by local artists, and they asked me to submit some.

ATCs have been around since the late 90s, and originally they were a way for artists to share their work in a small, portable form. The only rules are that the ATCs by 2.5 by 3.5 inches and that they not be sold (the latter rule is now often broken by calling the ATCs something else). They can be made in any medium with any technique, and I make mine using mostly fabric and beads. I learned about them several years ago, and after failing three times in my attempts to take a class about them (through some ludicrous coincidences), I finally got into the class and I started making them. At the class most women were using them as journals, but I was not interested in making them that personal so I decided on song lyrics as inspiration. It has become a series now, with seven done and more in the works.

The ones in the show:
This was the first one I made, a fairly literal interpretation of the refrain from "Starfish and Coffee" by Prince. It's one of my favorite songs, and my college roommate and I spent a fair amount of time singing it at the top of our lungs. I relied mostly on scrapbooking doohickies for the "food," but I could not find anything to represent the ham, not even bacon. I eventually took a snippet of pink fabric and embroidered it to look like a city ham. As for the "butterscotch clouds," the best I could do was a mass of butterscotch-colored seed beads.

"Purple People Eater" by Tori Amos. I had fun playing around with different techniques when I beaded the snow, but if I redo it (and I probably will) I think I will use one technique and make it very regular -- I think that suits the concept of snow and snowflakes better.

"Ghost Story" by Sting. My attempts at goldwork, without using any of the official goldwork techniques. This was a case of more is better. For a long while, as I worked on the "compass star," it looked horrible. But I kept on adding more and more beads and thread, until it finally started to look intricate and rich.

"Violet" by Hole. The color is off, unfortunately (sometimes that happens with my camera, and I don't know why; I tried all sorts of lighting for this), but the fabric is a lovely dark purple silk. I used detached chain stitch for the stars, crossing the legs to make them look like fish. Now that I look at it, the photo is upside down -- the "fish" are supposed to face the opposite direction.

"Autumngirlsoup" by Kirsty MacColl. The beaded bottle I made a long time ago, my own design (hence the unevenness), to go with a mini beaded basket, blanket, and loaf of bread I made from a pattern. I'm especially proud of the tree in the window, with the leaves falling.

"Rama Lama Bang Bang" by Róisín Murphy. I used a real zipper for the black corset, and attached the beaded heart behind it.

"Goodnight Moon" by Shivaree. I knew I could not do real scary, so I went for cute scary, which owes a lot to Where the Wild Things Are. The moon is a mother-of-pearl bead, and I used glow-in-the-dark thread for the teeth and claws.

I have also made other ATCs not part of the series, to give away and to commemorate family members. ATCs are particularly satisfying to make because they are so small and quick to finish, although mine tend to be labor-intensive and very detailed. The next swap in my crazy quilting/mixed media studio class is ATCs, so that will force me to make them less intensive without compromising the design.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Another Commission

Yet another friend of mine saw the calaveras earrings I made for myself a few years ago:
and thought they'd be perfect for her brother's girlfriend. So I made these for her:
The picture's not great, but the earrings came out better than the first pair, in my opinion. I think I'll make another for the etsy store -- skulls are trendy right now.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Back to Crafting

I'm already enjoying my first week in a long time without research, school reading, or writing. It feels create to be making things again, and I've made up for lost time.

Square 8 of my 36 Squares project:
I'm way behind, pretty much everyone has finished, but then I had no illusions about my being able to do a square each day. For this square I wanted to do an abstract design, just filling in the square with lots of color. I picked chain stitch because it is easy and fast and adds texture. But now that I am done, I see a person in it, with arms outstretched. It makes me think of a cheerful version of The Scream. (How awesome is it that when I googled that image, this was the first one to show up? Not to mention this, which Mr. Beadgirl and I bought on our honeymoon.)

My friend liked my French General garden necklace so much, she asked me to make one for her. So I did:
I also whipped up a linen bag to hold it from scrap fabric (an old skirt) and embroidered her initial on it, but of course I forgot to photograph it. And it is all the way downstairs . . .

When I was making this heart garland back in February, I set aside the hearts I cut from the pink paper cloth with paper lace and and shimmer to make little heart ornaments for myself, my mom, and my aunt. I finally got around to actually doing that:
I embroidered each one with Watercolours overdyed cotton thread and silk ribbon, and added a brass key charm to each one. I then sewed each one to its backing (ultra-suede) along the edge, pausing to gently stuff them. they're Mother's Day presents now.