Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The lazy eye

I was born with a "lazy eye" which causes me to have inaccurate sterescopic vision, double vision, and sometimes no stereoscopic vision at all when my eyes are tired. I have never seen a straight line in my life. I look at a doorway, for instance, and see overlapping images that are constantly shifting. When I think about it, I find it amazing that I can negotiate moving from room to room, or doing anything for that matter, without constantly bumping into things. But, since I've seen this way all my life, I've learned to compensate without my even knowing it. I did have serious problems learning to drive, and I do feel nervous at the edges of land, or on bridges, but that is certainly reasonable, given that I don't know exactly where the edge of anything is.

I've always found it surprising that I am a good draughtsman. The fact that I could tattoo at all seemed implausible. But it made sense to me, for I had an obsession with what I called "the perfect line" for decades. I spent countless hours life drawing, trying to find the edges, never interested in light and shadow. To capture a form in the the fewest possible lines, and have that line be sure and strong - oh! - what a pleasure and a challenge it was.

Now I find out that some Harvard neurobiologists are investigating a link that they believe exists between having poor depth perception due to strabismus (that "lazy eye") and having a facility for the visual arts. Rembrandt, Gustav Klimt, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Man Ray, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Willem De Kooning all had "ocular misalignment".

I did think my obsession with line drawing was some sort of overcompensation for my "eye problem." I also believed I might see the world in a flatter way than was normal, and though I can't say what "normal" looks like exactly, it seemed rather natural to portray reality on a flat plane. Now, I read that the ability to translate reality onto the flat plane may be facilitated by having this visual "impairment." I'm fascinated. I'm also rather excited, for I've always thought that my eyesight played a role in how I saw the world, not only visually, but in other ways, and I find it gratifying in some way that science is looking into a piece of this.

When I was very young, my eyesight made me think about just what reality was. Seeing two of everything, and having it overlap and move about, I was fascinated with the problem of knowing which image was the real one. I had to know, of course, in order to move about in the world. These days, I do not labor over which image is the "real one", but I clearly remember struggling with it, and those struggles caused me to question the notion that there was but one reality, or that anything was clearly fixed in space. However, if I judged wrong, there would be consequences.

Very young, I saw knowing what is "real" and where it was as some sort of construct, or agreement. Dogs and cats see the world differently than we do, and goodness, bees see it in a very different way, but we all are looking at the same thing. We are not all bumping into each other (for the most part), and that is truly extraordinary.

Today, I feel rather grateful that I was born with a lazy eye. I've always felt it gave me a different perspective and got me thinking about some interesting concepts at a young age, and so there's always been some gratitude, but now I feel like I'm in some great company. How marvelous!

Image note: Man Ray photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1880-1964
There's another photograph of him where it's clearer that his eyes are not aligned, but I can see it here somewhat. One can't tell with me, unless I've just awoken or am quite sleepy. When I was a kid, before I went to eye training school (yep - there's such a thing, or was once), it was quite noticeable.

Addendum: I have mistakenly called strabismus a "lazy eye", which turns out to wrong. I haven't read anything about this subject since I was quite young, and seem to have been harboring a common misconception. I also have amblyopia upon occasion, which is when the brain does not "acknowledge" information from a healthy eye. When my strabismus was quite pronounced, I did have amblyopia, and did not see double most of the time. This was before the eye training, which was an attempt to correct my "funny looking" left eye. It did not work entirely, and it appeared that when the information my brain received was accurate enough, it started to take notice, thus producing the constantly shifting double vision. I remember thinking I preferred a single image, and wished I had not had eye training. It also took up two years of my life and caused a constant headache. Why I didn't have the more common surgery is a mystery.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A bit of scent

A perfume post! When was the last time? I just searched this blog, and the answer is "no results." Did I not use the word "perfume"? Using the word "scent", I find a lot of results, 10 pages of them, but the answer to "when is the last time I wrote about scent (or perfume)" is "I do not know."

It's not as if I haven't been wearing scents, or smelling things. My apartment smelled like pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg for most of the day, and it was heavenly. While I was baking muffins, I didn't smell a thing, but when someone came in to do some work in the apartment, I had just removed the muffin tray from the oven, and he said, "It smells fantastic in here!" For that, he got a muffin, and I walked outside so I could walk back in again, and appreciate just how good those muffins smelled. I may like the scent I'm wearing, but the smell of baked goods has it beat.*

Today I'm wearing Serge Lutens' Chypre Rouge. I've written about this scent at least four times, including how I came to own a lovely little bottle of this stuff I couldn't possibly afford to buy, why I chose to wear it while duck was cooking, and my waffling about whether I loved it or loathed it (the scent, not the duck).

I have come to feel stupid about scent. I used to have a keen nose, and could tell you what some elusive note was without a thought. I could smell a scent once and remember it. When I lived in the city (not the last time), I could most times identify what scent any person was wearing, though these days that would be considerably harder to do, given the sheer variety.

I have no idea what point I came here to make. Maybe all I wanted to convey is that I still love scent. My obsession seems to have abated, and I no longer spend hours reading perfume blogs each day, nor do I trade samples, though I sometimes feel the urge. Then again, even though I've got a long list on MUA, no one has contacted me about a trade, so perhaps there's a general lessening of interest in the culture. Any perfumista reading this, tell me, is that true, or is it, as they say, just me?

There are some (not) new scents I'm quite curious about. I did find myself looking at L'artisan's website last week, and realizing I still have not sniffed Havana Vanille, which was released in 2009. A 2008 release, Nasomatto's China White, has remained a mystery, for no one sells samples of it, and not one person has it listed for trade. These are but two, and there's at least a year of new releases I am utterly unaware of.

I did count my samples before I moved six months ago, and I was up to over 250 before I gave up counting. Amongst these, I haven't a clue how many I have not worn, but only held up to my nose to assess. I'm nervous about application; I wore some Chergui a few weeks ago, a scent which I declared was my "new lover" on June 17, 2008. So much for old loves. I developed a headache, nausea, and couldn't scrub enough. I wasn't that I didn't like the smell (well, theoretically); it made me sick. I had to take a long walk outside after my futile scrubbing. Afterwards, I felt a bit sad. I was concerned my love of scent was truly over and done with.

It appears not. I'm loving the way I smell right now. Don't ask me to describe it, though. I can do that no longer.

Image note: Juan Sanchez Cotan "Still Life with Game Fowl, Vegetables, and Fruit" 1602

*However, I do not want to wear the smell of baked goods or any other edibles (save mushrooms, perhaps). There's a plethora of perfumes, plug-ins, candles, shampoo, and just about anything one can stick a scent into that smell of chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, cakes, even donuts, and, well, I just find them oh so cloying. I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I want my food to smell like food and my perfume to smell like perfume. Yes, I've made chocolate soap, but it was a disaster, and someone tried to eat one that was in the shape of star. It didn't help that I had wrapped them with colored cellophane like the edible bonbons they should have been.

Okay then

Maybe I'm feeling a bit provocative of late. I didn't mean to shock by voicing some ideas about tattooing that were a bit dark . I was only thinking out loud, and wanting a bit of dialogue. I didn't get it here, but I did in real life. It upset a few, but it did provoke some interesting conversation, and that is all I wanted.

I sometimes don't see what's taboo, or if I do, I want to talk about it and find out what others think.

So, I might be doing it again, by airing these thoughts:

There was a plate of crudites at a party that were particularly beautiful. Carrots with purple skin, bright yellow carrots, "watermelon radishes", and a bunch of other things, all quite colorful, that I had never seen before. I met the grower of these delightful vegetables, and we wound up talking about the immense variety of beans. I do not recall their name, but a friend grows some beans that are particularly stunning - magenta pods filled with purple skinned brilliantly lime green beans. When I was done describing them, a man said, "They would be wonderful to photograph with nudes." Okay. Sure. I said, "Well, they are quite sensuous." He responded, "I didn't say they were sexual." "No, sensuous", I replied.

As it turns out, he was a fine art photographer, and it wasn't some strange comment coming from nowhere. I looked at some of his work on the Web, and some of it seemed to fall into the category of "erotica" more than "fine art photography" (if there is a line). Seeing this, I wondered why he took such seeming offense at thinking I had said "sexual." Reflecting on this, I thought about those slippery categories: 1. Fine art nude photography. 2. Erotica. 3. Pornography. Where's the line?

I have never had a good answer to this question. It seems that the answer is simply a modicum of discretion, and aesthetics, nothing more or less. We know it when we see it.

The "law" has not been able to figure this one out. I certainly can't.

It's considered fine for men to take photographs of nude young women. I'm not saying it's wrong, though sometimes I suspect their motives, but I got to thinking: if a woman did the same thing with young men, wouldn't people, in general, be bothered? I believe so. If I did it, I'm sure it would be scandalous in this small town. Yet, there are many middle aged men who photograph, draw, and paint young nude woman every day here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to go out and do something. So, when I think I'm not provocative, or transgressive, I suppose I'm disingenuous, or just blind to myself.

I'm not planning on becoming a photographer of young men, but the idea that it would challenge people did make me think someone ought to do it, simply because it's a taboo based on sexism. Additionally, since I have strong feelings about abuses of power regarding sex and age, and about the idea that youth equals beauty, I will not be engaging in this project (and of course, I'm not a photographer). But, I did think, if I were a photographer, I'd like to photograph older people naked, to challenge myself, for one thing, about my feelings that my body has become "ruined", and this will only get worse. Are wrinkles and sagging skin really that aesthetically displeasing? Isn't this just a remnant of our gaze being affected by having to assess quickly the fecundity or virility of potential mates? I suppose, too, that we are repulsed by that which is dying, but autumn is beautiful, and the starkness of winter can be breathtaking. These last thoughts were not on point, but these are but ruminations. . .

Image note: Goya "The Clothed Maya" 1803
Goya painted the "The Nude Maja" in 1800. "Without a pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning, the painting was the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art." * The questions start here. Does intent and meaning create the divide between high art and pornography? When I hear a heterosexual man state, "I find the female form beautiful", though that may well be true, why is admitting lust a taboo (and how can it not be so)?

*Licht, Fred: Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art

Addendum: I have compressed my thinking about these subjects into a smallish space.vI do like talking and writing about my half baked ideas. I also do enjoy hearing what others have to say on any subject I babble on about, so please, if you are so moved, even if I write something that bothers you, please leave a comment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I'm engaged in a way, but I couldn't be bothered to go back and check.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to intellectualize.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to explain.

I don't want to read about bad hair cuts.

The truth is I'm overwhelmed by too much information that I am stupid, and have been blind to it.

Then I thought, I doubt that was possible.

I was in the index (or so I thought). I doubt that was possible.

I think I couldn't be bothered to intellectualize.

Sometimes I doubt that teacher.

I wound up bringing in the problem.

Y'know, I took out every book about nonsense and blurry thinking.

But, I took meticulous notes on Geronimo.

Image note: A piece of Hannah Hoch's Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919.

You too, can mash up your writing, with the Markov Text Synthesizer.

Trivial matters

I keep threatening to quit blogging. I'm thinking about it, but I can't quite do it. I can't write about what I want to, either.

I'm engaged in a struggle. I could blog about trivial matters, the things (according to Google Analytics) that people want to read about (bad hair cuts, mattresses), or I can try to blog about what really matters to me. But, oh, that's hard.

I can write about nonsense and memories pretty easily. It's not great art by any means. I just write as if I'm talking to someone, or to myself. I correct a typo now and again. Done.

This other stuff, I can't quite access it. I have this problem when I try to talk or write about Buddhism. I feel stupid and inarticulate. I can't find the words. I become convinced that I am stupid, and have been blind to it.

I know that's not true, but it feels true, as feelings tend to do. Feelings are such good liars.

The truth is I'm overwhelmed by too much information that I have no idea how to integrate. I've had this problem since I was a kid. When I was in the 5th grade, I had to write a paper (probably called a "report") on Geronimo. I had an adult library card, and I took out every book about Geronimo. That wasn't enough. I took out every book that had the name Geronimo in the index (or so I thought - I doubt that was possible). I read every single one of them. I took meticulous notes on index cards and put them into shoe boxes. My room was filled with boxes. When the paper was due, I had not even started it. A month of weeks went by, and I did not explain to the teacher what was going on. I was overwhelmed. I had no idea how to express what I'd read. Did I understand it? I think I did, in a way, but I was no genius. I wanted to write about the problem of the Native Americans, our country's history, assimilate all this information, but I could not, and I was too embarrassed to tell the truth.

I wound up bringing in all my shoeboxes filled with note cards over a period of days. I vaguely remember the bemused and compassionate eyes of that teacher. She gave me a good grade even though I never wrote the paper.

Y'know, I don't think she should have. I was always a sloppy thinker. I went to private school in 10th grade, and was confronted with significantly higher standards than I was used to. Did I rise to the occasion? Nope. I was too used to coasting. At first I was excited by the great teachers who didn't dumb down the classes, who gave us truly tough stuff to wrestle with. I read for pleasure, but I couldn't be bothered with the hard work of writing a cogent argument, or explaining what I'd read. Please, don't make me explain it.

I haven't changed. It's not that I mind working, or studying hard. I just can't explain. I don't want to explain. I don't want to intellectualize.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to express that's so damned hard, and I've grown tired of my lazy and blurry thinking. I have no idea if I can change. Sometimes I think I'm disabled in some way; I just can't do it.

I guess I'll find out. Not today.

Image note: Tried to find a painting of languid opium smokers to illustrate "fuzzy thinking." Didn't find one that wasn't protected by copyright. Then I thought of Francis Bacon's strange heads. Not in the public domain. The ones I could cadge are too scary (good for the last post). Came across a new artist (for me) - Nassar Azam. Gave up. See what I mean about lazy thinking? Yet, I spent 45 minutes looking at images and learning some new things. What do I have to say about Azam and Bacon? Nothing.

So, I give you the pair of fingerless mitts I knit and designed for Good Karma Farm. They are cozy.

And yeah, I believe I wrote about my fuzzy thinking just last week. I can't be bothered to go back and check.

PS. Too much "I" in this. Way too much. Therein lies the problem. . .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It's been nearly three years since I closed my tattoo studio. All my equipment has been sold. Tonight, I can not sleep. I feel the desire to tattoo. Drawing or painting won't satisfy that desire, and if I explained it, it would probably sound bizarre.

I used to have school groups come up to my shop on field trips. How funny, in retrospect. Once, a kid asked, "Are you a sadist?" The teacher told him it was an inappropriate question, but I said I thought it was fair. After all, I spent my working hours hurting people. I could have painted or drawn on paper or canvas, but I plied by trade in blood and skin. I do not remember what I said in answer to this young man, but now I think that I probably am a sadist, in the strict sense of the word, even though I did what I could to lessen the pain of being tattooed (yes, folks, one can do that).

I have often said getting tattooed can become an addiction, but now I think tattooing itself is, too.

I miss the whole bloody mess.

The first time I tattooed someone other than myself, I was scared. I was also excited. Hmm. Does it sound like I'm talking about sex? Perhaps, though I don't remember thinking "I hope I don't scar this person for life" when I lost my virginity.

So, what's the difference between tattooing and painting? For me, it's the struggle. Painting and drawing came easily to me. Tattooing was hard. There was always this crazy tension, and I got a rush out of it most days. Some days it would drain me completely. In the end, I didn't want to go to "work", when once I happily worked six days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day in a street shop, drawing flash or making needles on my so-called days off. The guy I did an apprenticeship with told me he wouldn't take me unless I was willing to "eat, sleep, and shit tattoos" and I did.

I'm skirting the question of sadism, I know. Did I enjoy hurting people? In a way, I must have. I was (and still am) opposed to the use of topical anesthetics. Take the pain out of the equation, and something ineffable is lost. I enjoyed the act of tattooing when tattoos were seen as rites of passage, rites of feeling, of memory, of bonding, acts of manhood (and womanhood), marks of internal pain, and of triumph. I, as tattooist, felt, at times, shaman-like, and this is a powerful feeling. Is a shaman a sadist? Is a doctor a sadist? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Now I"m not so sure of my original thought about my answering "yes" to the question.

I do not know.

Like a painter loves his rags, I loved the paper towels covered with pigment and blood. Though some people challenged me, (fish factory workers at the end of a work day), I loved the smell of the work - bodies, sweat, sometimes the scent of shampoo or perfume, green soap, betadine, and again, blood.

I loved working with music cranked up loud. I'd be high on it, tapping out rhythms with my left foot while my right foot was on the pedal to the power supply. It was like driving over 100 miles per hour without any fear (and no cops).

And yeah, sometimes I enjoyed what can only be called the fight. No one calls a midwife a sadist, do they? Some tattoo sessions felt like helping someone birth a child. One guy I remember so well - a big tat on his concave stomach, from hips to under his nipples. I'd tattooed him before, and he had no problem with it. But on his tender belly (like many), well, that was another story. Every minute of that six hours was excruciating. He would not give in, get up, or give up. He'd see it through. Sweating in pain, I by turns encouraged him, teased him, told him totally inappropriate jokes, made him push through longer spells without a cigarette break. . .and yeah, I enjoyed myself.

Maybe it's only about power. How often does a five foot tall woman feel stronger than a man over six feet?

I can see I'm going to go off on a huge tangent, and I'm getting quite sleepy, so I'll just let this entry peter out. . .there'll be no neat bow tying this one up, nor any fancy catchphrase to end it.

Image note: I don't know who to attribute this photo to. I found it on the web. I imagine these folks worked in the circus. When I became a tattooist, my father said to me, "You're going to become a circus side show freak." My, times have changed, though, damned if I don't yearn just a little bit for the days when tattooing and being tattooed were rare and freakish enough to gain one entry into the world of the true outsider.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In the month plus that I haven't blogged (or written, as we used to call it), I've been thinking. I've tried to write, but the thoughts going through my mind have become difficult to articulate, and as I'm not skilled in thinking (or writing) precisely, and am prone to a certain kind of intellectual laziness, these half baked ideas of mine have sat gathering proverbial dust in the virtual drafts folder.

I think "I'll get back to that", but I don't.

So, what have I come here tonight to share with you?

Too many disparate ideas are competing for my attention. I no longer suffer from the endless chattering of self-talk that I used to, so don't imagine there's a cacophony of thought in this head of mine. No, thoughts come slowly, and then fade away. This is one reason it is hard to write. I can't do math in my head, nor play a game of chess decently, for I don't think in pictures, and the little I do fades away too quickly to snatch at. I don't know how I think, quite frankly. "They" say we all think and learn in different ways - visually, musically, physically - I don't remember all the categories, and won't cheat and google the answer (I think you get the point). Well, I think I think in no such way. I can't name it.

I'd thought I was done with blogging because I was done with the business or pleasure of story telling. The urge to disgorge myself of semi-secrets and memories had left me. I still love to tell stories, but they no longer feel like they are mine, nor do I have the urge to be known the way I once was or did. I may be lying to myself to preserve my sanity. Perhaps. I've come to appreciate greatly the company of strangers, and seem to feel no need to tell much of myself. I bought a pack of gum earlier this evening, and the exchange between me and the cashier was a perfectly good social interaction.

But, the exchange of ideas, well, I miss that at times. It just occurred to me that I used to share the minutaie of life on this blog. I've been baking muffins of late, and if this were a year ago, I would have blogged about it every week. If it were two years ago, I would have blogged about it every time I baked a batch. I would have regaled or bored you, depending on your taste, with news of buckwheat, raisins, walnuts versus pecans, a new stainless steel cooling rack, why I want a professional muffin tin, muffin eating as addiction, my fear of getting fat on muffins, my distaste for the smell of buttermilk, the discovery of yoghurt as a perfect substitute, how recipes call for too much sugar, my constitutional inability to follow a recipe exactly, having two kinds of butter in the 'fridge, how my kitchen counter is impossible to keep clean and why, how this entry is making me want a muffin, and lastly, where the word "muffin" comes from. And that would not have been the last you'd hear of any of it, I'm sure.

And then there's my sudden fascination with the Civil War. I finally succumbed to a national obsession in this time of the tea parties, trying to make sense of this country of mine (and don't get me started on how I don't believe in nation states, and don't really think of this as "my country"). That, I believe, is what's driving my desire to get back to blogging. I'm fascinated with my own ignorance, and quite frankly, I'm horrified by other people's of late.

So, with that, merely a preamble to what, hopefully, will come, I'm about to conclude, well. . .nothing. Just saying hello, again: "Hello", and wondering what's been fascinating you.

Image note: When faced with the question "knit or write?", knitting has won out. In the last two weeks, I've knit five hats, two pairs of fingerless mitts, and one shawl, while listening to nearly 27 hours of Yale's David Blight lecturing on the Civil War. Lecturing! What a terrible word. It conjures up wagging fingers or watching a clock's second hand move oh so slowly clicking into place for what seems like an eternity as one waits for a bell to signal the end of a class taught by one who has long ago lost any passion for their subject matter. I hung on Professor Blight's every word, though I was knitting.