What I obsess about when I’m not obsessed with photography

I hate August. I was never crazy about it in the Bay Area, but my loathing has reached new depths since moving to Louisiana. Part of that is because it’s the start of hurricane season, something my family has not had good luck with in recent years: my grandparents lost their house in Rita, a couple weeks after Katrina; my parents were able to fix theirs, only to have it wrecked in Ike a few years later.

But mostly it’s just the weather. Summer (which lasts roughly half the year in south Louisiana) is never pleasant, and no two ways around it, but there’s something particularly nasty about August. It goes over 90 for most of the month, and it’s so humid that my sunglasses steam up whenever I leave an air-conditioned interior. Or maybe it’s been like that for weeks, and August is just when my tolerance starts to wear thin.

I was able to keep photographing outside until the middle of July–the last shoot I did was the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette the weekend before I went to California. But the lovely weather in Laguna Beach must have eroded whatever resistance I had built up, because I pretty much went into hibernation when I got home. Although next weekend is the Lomographers of Acadiana meetup; we’re doing the capitol building in Baton Rouge.  (I really wanted to do the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans, but the last Saturday of August overlaps with Labor Day weekend, which is when Southern Decadence happens. It’s like Gay Mardi Gras. I’m not opposed to that or anything, I just don’t want to deal with the crowds. I avoid the French Quarter during actual Mardi Gras, too.)

So since I haven’t been able to obsess over photography, I’ve briefly transferred my attentions. For a few weekends I was scouring all the antique stores in Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, looking for vintage fountain pens. Most of what I came across were Wearevers, a cheap but respectable brand that churned out millions of pens in the decades surrounding WWII. It was the Kodak Brownie of fountain pens.

But I came across a real treasure at Lagniappe, my favorite store in Breaux Bridge, an Eversharp Doric in pristine cosmetic condition–it’s pre-WWII and made of celluloid, which eventually crystallizes and starts cracking, but none of that is evident in my pen.

This isn't my photo but my pen looks just like this one. For some reason green seems to have survived more than any other color Doric--or maybe Eversharp just made more of them in that color.

This isn’t my photo but my pen looks just like this one. For some reason green seems to have survived more than any other color Doric–or maybe Eversharp just made more of them in that color.

I don’t think the seller knew what they had, because they were charging about 1/3 of what they could have asked. That happens a surprising amount of time with antiques dealers, which just seems lazy to me. I mean I know they can’t know everything about everything (to use the American Pickers’ phrase), but wouldn’t you spend 5 minutes Googling the thing? Sometimes this leads them to charge way too much–I once saw a Tom’s Peanuts jar in the same store that had an $800 price tag, WTF–but more often it works to my advantage.

Anyway, I bought it and cleaned all the dried ink out of it. The vacuum fill won’t draw ink, but I was expecting that; rubber seals eventually dry up but it’s not a big deal to replace them. I have no experience working with vacuum fill pens and I’m sure not going to practice on this one, so I cruised some shops on Etsy that refurbish fountain pens, contacted a couple of the owners with good feedback, and asked if they took commissions. One guy in South Dakota who specializes in Eversharps quoted me $40, which is about what I expected to pay. Added to what I paid for the pen, it still comes to well under half of what I’ve seen pens in worse condition than mine go for online. I’ve seen pens in my condition sell for $300.

And of course I wound up buying a pen from him as well, an Eversharp Skyline (which I believe is the model that immediately followed the Doric).

I love the fantastic “dieselpunk” look this pen has. I am Team Dieselpunk, even if it is the redheaded stepchild of cyberpunk and steampunk.

Last weekend I decided to check out the secondhand bookstores in Lafayette, which I have shockingly neglected to do before this. Most of them were crappy and like 80% of their inventory was trashy romance novels, but there’s one on West Congress that was really cool. They have a history and a science section, and they sell art books and cookbooks, and had a bunch of funky old books on needlepoint and embroidery from the 1970s.

I got one of those “Images of America” books about New Orleans cemeteries, and an old edition of Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi. That’s kind of essential reading for any photographer working in south Louisiana, and new copies go for about $70, so I was happy to find it used. All the revised editions have the same 100 B&W plates; what do I care who wrote the introduction? I need a copy of Richard Sexton’s Vestiges of Grandeur, but that’s probably too new (and too pretty) to wind up in a secondhand bookstore. Amazon has it for $30, and I wouldn’t have to pay shipping with my Prime membership. That’s not a bad price for a large coffee table book that contains dozens of color photographs.

Basically I’m doing research with these books, for when it finally cools down enough to go back out with a camera. I’ve already found a couple of places in the Laughlin book and I’m not even finished looking at it. Although I always Google first, because a lot of those houses have been restored since he photographed them (boring!), and a few of them have been demolished or burned down or taken by the river.

how YOU doin’?

fish eggs, fish eggs, roly-poly fish eggs

Saturday has become miscellaneous errand day since I’m working again. Today I went to the library to renew Hearts in Atlantis — working also means less time to read — and turn in Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder. That one was interesting, because Lawrence Schiller wasn’t trying to sell his personal pet theory of the murder, just presenting the facts. Which means I still have no fucking clue who killed JonBenét Ramsey. I guess it will never be solved. If it was Patsy Ramsey (there is no single case on record of a mother garrotting her child, ever), she’s already dead.

I also checked out an awesome commemorative edition of pretty much every story H.P. Lovecraft ever wrote, it’s called (of course) The Necronomicon and has a leather cover with a be-tentacled Cthulhu stamped in silver. The librarian gave me the hairy eyeball, because everyone who works at that library is Super Catholic and also dumber than a sack of hair. The Necronomicon isn’t a real thing, people! It’s just a word that Lovecraft made up and that every writer/filmmaker has been ripping off since in homage!!

What was funny is there was a deeply weird poster hanging right behind her. It was your standard “Make waves!” slogan, exorting kids to read during their summer vacay; but the illustration was this like, robed, fiercesome Ram Wizard God, with cryptic symbols all over his enourmous curly horns and blank black eyes, standing upright and being pulled through a stormy ocean by tethered killer whales. Which looked like tadpoles, so he was also GIANT. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING, YOU GUYS. Oh man, I wanted to take a cell cam photo so bad, but my battery was dead! Maybe I’ll try again the next time I’m there; if some parent (or nun) doesn’t wig out, it will probably be hanging all summer.

Then after that I went to Lafayette. I went to S&P Oriental Grocery again — that name used to make me wince, then I remembered it’s not politically incorrect to refer to things as “Oriental”, just people. This time I found lychee jellies, wasabi furikake, and dashi soup stock. Which means I can make chawan mushi.

Then I went to Target for new sunglasses, where I also got a new pea soup green purse, because it was on clearance for $17.48, and pea soup green is a color sadly lacking in my wardrobe.

THEN I went to Rouses for bento stuff. They not only have tobiko, they have the kind DYED GREEN WITH WASABI WHAT. They also had the black squid ink tobiko, but I don’t care for that. Squid ink has a taste like white paper to me. It’s faint but unpleasant. I also got pickled baby carrots, because a true Japanese bento always has a pickle course. I’m going to make mini sushi rolls for my next one. It will be awesome.

The ‘rents are going to some party in Breaux Bridge later this afternoon. I was invited and probably would have gone, but it’s OUTSIDE. NO THANK YOU. So instead I’m going to settle down with a 6-pack of Honey Moon and watch On Demand every episode of this season of Leverage. I watched the season premiere this morning and realized how much I missed it when Eliot “the Hitter” paused in the middle of beating the shit out of a crooked prison guard, growled “Look at me”, then continued to beat the shit out him. Oh, Christian Kane. I’ve almost forgotten you played Lindsey “Evil Hand!” McDonald way back when on Angel.

what i’ve been reading & watching lately: religious stuff edition

Introduction to Quakerism by Pink Dandelion

(When I first saw the cover of this book, I thought Pink Dandelion was an independent press or something. Turns out it’s actually the author’s name, and he — yes, he — is a very distinguished and well-known in his field Quaker historian and scholar.)

Disclosure: I still have a couple chapters to go on this. But so far it’s been a very informative and interesting book. Turns out Quakerism covers quite a wide spectrum of beliefs. There are Evangelical Quakers who are against mixed-gender dancing and women cutting thier hair; on the opposite end there are Liberal Quakers who advocate for social justice and don’t give much thought to whether God exists or not. (Actually, Pink Dandelion puts non-theist Quakers in a subcategory he calls liberal-Liberal Quakers.)

Turns out the group in Lafayette that I was thinking of sitting in on is probably not active anymore, as their website appears to be defunct. Sadface. There is a group in New Orleans that looks good; they have unprogrammed worship — the practice of sitting in silence without clergy until a Friend is moved to speak — and welcome visitors. Still, that’s a long drive to make every Sunday morning. I’ll have to consider it. In the meantime, I am still interested enough to have bought A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith and Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings for further study.

The Tudors

I’ve watched the first 2 seasons; I just got the first disc of season 3 from Netflix today. I knew going in that it wasn’t a documentary, and as Tudor history is kind of a hobby of mine, I vowed to look at it like a soap opera and not harp on what’s wrong. That’s actually only the first season though, I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of the second.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous, there’s lots of hot nasty sex, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers does great Crazy Eyes. What’s not to love? Although there are serious moments that are really devastating as well, like when Anne Boleyn sees her brother and friends executed. (Or when Thomas Wyatt, upon being told there’s no evidence he had an affair with her and is free to go, chokes out “But I’m the only one who’s guilty!”)

I’m looking forward to season 3, because Anne of Cleves was always my favorite wife. Kept her head, made out like a bandit. She was a smart cookie.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Yes, I decided to read this because of The Tudors, although it’s been on my list. It’s one of the few books by Alison Weir I hadn’t already read. What can I even say about her books by now? It was awesome, as always. Meticulously researched, lots of first-hand quotes and letters. It’s a real doorstop of a book, but it goes fast because it’s so fascinating. I stayed up too late many nights getting through it. And it’s not as if I haven’t read lots of books about Henry and his wives before, but Weir is such a good writer that I didn’t consider it a waste of time to read her book about them, too.

Breaking Bad, Season 2

***CONTAINS SPOILERS***

Season 1 presented Walter White as a mild-mannered, underpaid public servant who was only driven to do a very bad thing by good intentions and desperation. Season 2 raised the question: Is “Heisenberg” — Walt’s meth-cooking alter ego — really who he is, and did lung cancer simply give him carte blanche to inflict him upon the world? This seems to me to be answered in the affirmative, when Walt goes into remision and has made more money than he can spend; but he still gives a bunch of tweakers buying acetone and match boxes in the local big box home improvement store a steely glare, and growls “Stay out of my territory”.

However, I am all for anti-heros in television, and Bryan Cranston is a fucking awesome actor. He’s one of those guys who just disappears into every role and plays it with every molecule of his being. Before this show I knew him primarily from Seinfeld, where he played the recurring character of Tim Watley, DDS, the somewhat perverse dentist that Elaine had the hots for and who converted to Judaism for the jokes. But there is not one iota of Dr. Watley in Walter White. Even the way Cranston holds his face when he isn’t speaking or doing anything in particular is totally different.

I’m caught up with the show now and can watch the new season as it airs (the ‘rents have a DVR), which I am very happy about.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I’ve been meaning to read this for forever, basically. It’s funny because on the surface it’s about two things which I have very little patience for: Catholic apologism (Waugh was an adult convert to the RCC) and nostalgia for the English gentility. Or as I call it, “snobbery”. Still, Waugh is one of those great, sad, between-the-wars English writers. I liked the book, even if there was very little in it that I related to.

life without books is not worth living

I sold or donated to the library about half of my books when I moved out of the farmhouse. Which means I still had enough to overflow a large, 5-shelf bookcase. I narrowed it down to books I can and have read repeatedly. Everything I kept has been read at least twice.

I decided not to keep many books with me at the ‘rents in Louisiana. The desk in my room has a shelf divided into 3 sections: a middle one that takes up half the space, and 2 on either side of it that are half as wide. The middle section is DVDs I couldn’t live without. The left section is miscellaneous notebooks, Moleskines, stationary, the books that came with my Holga and Diana, etc. And the right section is books. It’s only about a foot wide. (The top is where I keep my cameras.)

Here’s what I elected to keep:

  • The I Trader Joe’s Cookbook by Cherie Twohy. Ironic, as there are no Trader Joe’s in the entire state of Louisiana. But I managed to make a recipe from it a few days ago (maple mustard chicken, which was unequivocally approved of).
  • An Introduction to Quakerism by Pink Dandelion. That is not only the author’s name, it’s a male author’s name. However, I am not done reading this and it may not make the final cut.
  • The Little Prince (hardcover) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
  • The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, with illustrations by Dame Darcy.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.
  • World War Z by Max Brooks.
  • Where I Was From by Joan Didion.
  • The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Issa, and Buson.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
  • Immortal Poems of the English Language, edited by Oscar Williams.
  • 20 Love Poems & A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda.
  • Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (How appropriate.)
  • Indian Love Poems
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

I never realized I read so much poetry before. I was really tempted tp keep at least one William Gibson and Raymond Chandler. But I have all their books, and I hate breaking up sets. I can always check them out from the library or get them out of storage if I have the urge.

If you had to pare your library down to about a dozen books — not get rid of everything, just not be able to keep them in your immediate vicinity — which would they be?

kat black’s golden tarot

So, this might fall under the category of “Why are you spending your very limited funds on that?”, but I bought a Tarot deck. Specifically, Kat Black’s Golden Tarot, which uses the same symbolism as the famous Rider-Waite deck; but the images have been digitally collaged from little-known art of the High Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. They have gilt edges and come with a 200-page book with hard covers and packaged in a very nice, sturdy box with a top that lifts off. Most Tarot decks come packaged in a thin cardboard box that folds open — like a regular deck of playing cards — and a flimsy little booklet. This is a beautiful and very nicely produced deck, and I really don’t know how US Games can afford to sell it for less than $20.

So why did I buy it? I recently re-read Frank Portman’s Andromeda Klein (recommending it to a friend who enjoyed King Dork made me want to read it again), in which Tarot plays a major part of the plot. It just really made me want one. I bought a Rider-Waite deck when I was a teenager, but must have lost it or given it away or threw it out during one of the dozen times I’ve moved since then. I haven’t seen it in years.

I decided to get something a little different this time. I’ve always liked the symbolism and the order of the classic Rider-Waite deck; I hate the vaunted Aleister Crowley Thoth deck, which changed a lot of the Major Arcana. “Strength” becomes “Lust”? Umm, no. But to be honest — and a little shallow — always thought the execution was a bit lacking. A little research led me to this deck, which has a lot of great reviews on Amazon and won a lot of awards.

I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, aren’t you an atheist?” Yes I am, and I do not believe in fortune-telling. For me, Tarot is more a way to focus on a single issue and think about all the different ways to approach it and all the ways that might change my life for better or for worse. This is not as idiosyncratic as you might think; Kat Black herself, in the intro, says that she uses Tarot for “personal insight”, not for psychic or fortune-telling purposes, although you can certainly use her deck that way. And Carl Jung believed Tarot had legitimate psychotherapy purposes, he thought each card represented a different archetype of humanity.

Here’s a funny coincidence: I did a spread last night — I prefer the Celtic Cross, which I know a lot of aficionados sneer at as a “beginner’s spread”, but I like it because it uses a lot of cards. And the 7th card, the one that is supposed to represent “self”, was the Two of Swords. In Andromeda Klein, this card plays a significant part, and is the card that the title character comes to think of as her Significator. (I myself never use a Significator when I am doing a spread for myself, because it removes a card from the deck.) This is what Andromeda would call a “synch”; but which I, not believing in the occult, merely chalk up to happenstance and the sort of ordinary weirdness that you get in a universe with nearly infinite outcomes.

what i’ve been reading & watching lately: unemployed edition

Rome: Season Two

I gather a lot of people were disappointed in the second season, but I loved it just as much as the first. And I thought Kevin McKidd was even more amazing than he was in the first season; when he rescues his children from slavery and like a thousand different emotions pass across his face within seconds, I was like WHY ISN’T THIS MAN A HUGE STAR.

I couldn’t decide what kind of end I wanted for Atia of the Julii, whether I wanted her to triumph or go out like Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, getting hissed at by a crowd of aristocrats. But I was reasonably satisfied with the ending they gave her, mostly because I found Livia to be an even bigger creep than Atia. “I know you. You are swearing now that someday you will destroy me. Remember: far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go look for them now.”

The Thin Man, Red Harvest, and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

I finally finished Raymond Chandler — I’ve been spacing out his books for nearly a decade, because once they were all read: no more. Sniff! So anyway, I thought that I’d read some Hammett, who after all practically invented the hardboiled genre. The prose isn’t as polished and sharp as Chandler, and the dialogue seems a little clichéd now, but only because Hammett invented it. But I liked The Thin Man a lot and thought Red Harvest was brilliant. The only one I didn’t like was The Maltese Falcon, because frankly Book Sam Spade comes off like a scary sociopath. Bogart played him positively cuddly in the movie.

I want to read The Glass Key now, it’s supposed to be Hammett’s magnum opus.

Grey Gardens

I hear Drew Barrymore just won a Golden Globe for this, and believe me when I tell you that she totally deserved it. I’ve seen the actual Maysles’ documentary Grey Gardens, and she completely nailed it. Jessica Lange, too. If you’ve ever wondered what made Big and Little Edie Beale go completely off the deep end, this goes a long way to providing some answers.

Side note: If you are from an East Coast, old money family of bluebloods, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT NAME YOUR DAUGHTERS EDITH/EDIE. It never works out well. (See also: Sedgwick, Edie.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I’m probably not going to make any friends with this statement, but: I think Jane Austen is probably the most overrated writer in the entire canon of post-Renaissance Western literature. So it pleases me to see her work subverted; it is, as the kids say, relevant to my interests. This isn’t a particularly deep or meaningful work of art, just a fun, quirky way to pass some time. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I gotta say though, I do not get the enduring crush so many readers have had on Mr. Darcy through the centuries. That half-assed marriage proposal made me wish for a zombie to shamble in and suck his brains out. “Hey, your family is trash and you’re beneath me, but I love you anyway. Who are you to resist?” Ugh, give me Mr. Rochester any day.

The Cove

There was a lot about Japan’s dolphin capture/slaughter industry that I already knew: The dangerously high levels of mercury, the mislabeling of the meat, the fact that the market for it has been artificially created by the very industry profiting from it. But there was still a lot for me to learn here. And even if there wasn’t, it’s still worth watching because it’s a remarkably well-made documentary. In fact, it reminded me a little bit of the last great documentary I watched, Man on Wire. Where that was made to look like an Ocean’s 11-type caper, this was more like a very good spy thriller.

A warning: They do show the footage of dolphin slaughter that they secretly filmed, and it is very, very disturbing to watch. It’s less than 5 minutes altogether, but I was shaking all over and forcing myself to breathe slowly so I wouldn’t hyperventilate by the end of it. Still, it’s a very good documentary on an important subject, and I urge you to add it to your Netflix queue.

felties & zombies

This is the last batch, the Mummy Cat was the last one I made because I couldn’t make it until I bought a roll of gauze.

  • Hoodie Wolf: Complete with picnic basket! I don’t know if he ate Red Riding Hood, but he definitely mugged her.
  • Mummy Cat: This one was kind of a bitch to make, but I’m really pleased with the results. There was a whole display of mummified animals — including a crocodile! — at the King Tut exhibit.

No more felties or softies for a while, I have to concentrate on Christmas presents. But after the holidays I might get one of those books that actually teaches you how to make your own wool felt. Felties made from those have a really charming look; plus felting might be a useful skill to have when the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes. (Excuse me, I just read World War Z for like the kajillionth time. I wonder if the movie’s ever gonna get made.)

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