Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I am hungry.


Also, the entries for Commie Pinko have failed to appear 24 hours before they're supposed to.

No, straight girl, I do not like your boyfriend. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This post is also about ballroom dancing

Cooperation is good.  Communities are helpful.  People who are good at what you do can give good advice on how to do it.  Success is making the most of the opportunities ahead of you, and often times those opportunities come via the people you know.  Cassie's writer friend showed her a piece she'd written, and Cassie said, "You should submit that to Nature, because I know what they're looking for, and this is exactly it."  So the friend submitted, and was published in Nature.

The problem is, I don't want to make friends with people who do what I do.  If they're not up to my standards I hold criticism in my heart.  If they're good then I'm threatened.  It's not that I won't befriend photographers or writers.  Obviously, I have friends who do these things, and do them well.  But when I meet someone, the fact that they share those traits with me is a point against them.  It's only later, after I have come to know and love them, that I can let go of my territorial instincts.  Once there is an us, then we can be writers together.  But when there's just two people, only one of them, and it has to be me, can occupy that space.

I'm not proud of this, and I try to squash it as much as I can, but the instinct is there.  Part of this is competitiveness.  And part of it has to do with identity.  If I am used to being The Weird One in a group, then that becomes part of my self-identification, and if someone else takes that title, then I have lost a little of who I think I am.  Which is why I don't bristle when confronted with someone who knits better than I do, or dances better, because I am not used to taking those things as identifiers.  I actually do still bristle a little bit among drama people, because I used to be one.  And even though I haven't acted on stage since my junior year in college, it bothers me that people don't see me that way. 

I have complained a good deal, although not so much on this blog, about the interactions I've had with ballroom dancers.  The in-club people stick with themselves, and barely even seem to see anyone who isn't in the club.  I went to a ballroom dance, and the only people who said hi to me were swing dancers, who I had met just as recently as anyone else in the room.  When I asked people to dance, no one actually refused me, but they still seemed to barely notice I was there.  And I spent a lot of time standing in front of someone, waiting for them to acknowledge my presence so I could ask.

It's been pointed out to me that ballroom dancers don't necessarily come to it as a social activity.  It's a competitive performance.  And even when they're dancing "socially," they see it as practicing for the real thing, which is competition.  So there isn't any point in dancing with someone who might not know every step that they do. 

But I just realized that, beyond the difference in what we think we're doing at a dance, I am pushing a lot of boundaries.  I'm nobody.  And I walk in, obviously confident, stand in front of the class as if I think I'm teaching it (see previous post).  I haven't paid my dues (I mean, I have literally, but not figuratively) but I expect to be welcomed into the circle.  They're not being snobbish, not necessarily.  They're being territorial.  They're acting, actually, just like me.

Ballroom dancing and black pointy hats

An anthropology professor performs an experiment with her classes every semester.  She tells them that there is a "witch" in the class.  This witch might be male or female, and is secretly the cause of all of their troubles.  If they stubbed their toe, it was because the witch cursed them to do so.  She then asks the students to write down who they think would be the witch.  Since this is done in a large lecture class where students don't necessarily know their classmates, she has each student stand up, one by one, and say their name.  One can expect that none of the students actually believe in that kind of witchcraft, and they have very little information available to make this decision.  They have physical characteristics: appearance, dress, voice.  And they have each person's name and place where they are sitting.

I would have expected that any pattern that emerged would point to the students who stood out, by appearance or speech, as being "outsiders."  A lone Boston accent in the Midwest.  Or the safety pin punk.  It turns out that her students do overwhelmingly identify a specific kind of student as "the witch," but not by appearance.  It's the students who sit within the "T" in a classroom: across the front row, and down the center.  Those students are the outsiders. 

On my first day of ballroom dance lessons, the leads and follows arranged themselves in rows on opposite sides of the room.  I chose the front row because either a) I would pretty much already know the steps, in which case I might as well be seen doing it, or b) I needed to learn the steps, in which case I wanted the best view of the instructor.  There was one woman who seemed to always be a little further forward than the rest, and so I used her position as the line where the front row should start, and I assumed that the other women were just sort of lagging back a little. 

I later learned that the instructor had a pair of assistants, advanced students who could model the steps for the class, so that no matter whose part the instructor was demonstrating at the time, there would be at least one person modeling each part.  That girl I was standing next to wasn't the front line, she was in front of the front line.  Or rather, she was supposed to be.  So, rather than just showing confidence or eagerness to learn, I was apparently also announcing that I thought I was helping teach the class.  Oops.  I might as well have worn a black pointy hat and a sign on my back saying "burn me."

So now, I hang back a little further.  But I'm still the witch.  I want a good view, and I don't really care what it looks like.  Or rather, I care what it looks like, I just don't care if anyone likes me.  I make sure to dance with the instructor after class.

(Which is, actually, what I'd meant to talk about in the first place.)

The thing is, these ballroom dance lessons are ridiculously easy.  I may have only learned how to rumba a week or two ago, but a rock-step-outside pivot turn is the same step whether it's followed by a cha-cha-cha or just a step-and-hold.  It's the same step in salsa, and mambo, and rumba, and cha-cha, and nightclub 2-step, and even if I didn't already know two of those five, we learned all of them in class.  So when the instructor asks, after we've done a few steps in tango, if I've done this before, I'm not sure how to answer.

I think I learned in college that a basic American tango is one two three four five six seven eight, and the basic step (for the follow) is back, back, back-side-together.  I doubt I've been taught anything more than that, but all I have to do is keep that rhythm and follow where I'm lead.  So I step on one three five six seven and go wherever he puts me.  If we were getting into the specifics of the hold and the steps, the line of the legs, the angle of my feet when they hit the floor, that's not the same.  I don't know that.  But all we're learning is one, three, five, six, seven.  And I don't know how to answer his question.  I've taken maybe two hours of tango lessons for a PE class in college.  But I've been learning choreography since I was 9, and I learned how to hold a frame when I was 23.  So I look at him and say, "um, sort of?"

I have the same problem when people ask me how long I've been swing dancing.  Here's the timeline:

13 years old: I learn a basic east coast, triple-step, triple-step, rock-step, as choreography only (no actual lead-follow communication).  I learn a basic solo Charleston.  I don't actually do anything besides learn them once.

18-21 years old: I learn some turns in east coast, with an understanding that I am following a lead, but no real understanding of frame.  I go dancing once a month.  I take two lessons in lindy hop while on vacation, fail miserably (no frame yet), and forget.

23-24 years old: I take real lindy hop lessons, actually learn how to hold a frame.  I don't go out dancing, but I take lessons once a week for maybe 6 months, maybe a year or so.  Then I mostly stop.

27 years old:  I join the U Iowa swing club, and for a year I manage to go to lessons once a week.  I go to a few dances during that year, probably not more than 5.

28-31 years old:  My schedule gets in the way, so I quit the club.  I still occasionally go to events.

I could pick any of those ages and say, without lying, that I've been dancing since then.  But I'm not really telling the truth, either.  Usually I give a helpless shrug and say, "I don't know."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


 I will probably not use this.  But I'd like to keep it somewhere, just in case.

You start again, even though you have a short story due in ten hours for your writing seminar, which is supposed to be your major except that you can’t seem to write anymore. You come back to the darkroom the next day, and the next. You stop falling asleep to the sound of half-formed sentences. Instead, when you close your eyes, you feel your hand rocking, gently, up and down.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Washing, drying, and caring for your photograph

Buy a binder and a few sets of (archival, acid-free) plastic sleeves. Fill up the binder. Buy another one. Buy a portfolio on sale at the campus bookstore. Start buying archival boxes. You will move ten times in the next thirteen years. Each move leaves a little bit behind, so that thirteen years later all you have left from college are a handful of books you never read, and these boxes.

Here is the edge of a creek in Yosemite.

Here is a line of columns in Vienna.

Here are the bows on Mirriam’s back, fraying strips of calico.

Here is Judith, head tossed back, laughing.

Here is your best friend Sheila, sitting cross-legged in the studio. Her face is turned so that only the smallest edge of profile shows past her hair. A shadow runs down along one arm and across her body. She is half-silhouette, half silver. In a moment, you know, she will turn to smile at you, while you change film holders and prepare for another shot. You hold the photograph in your hands, waiting, but that moment never comes.

I have a beginning and an ending. I even have a few things in between. It feels good.

Week 8, part 1: more bad dreams

Weight this morning, 202 pounds.  Loss this week, 2 pounds.  Total loss, 15 pounds.

I don't know what's up with these bad Sunday night dreams.  I don't hate my job.  I like my job.  And yet, I wake up on Monday morning from dreams of disappointing people, to the sounds of Iggy yowling miserably, and I just want to cry.

I didn't finish a rough draft.

I didn't answer any calls or emails.

I gained weight.

And I'm going to be late to work again.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Funny Thing About Poetry

Authors note:  I have decided to condense the next several posts into one.  I will update occasionally as needed.


When I was seventeen years old, I was in love with my best friend.  I never told her.  Not because of the gay thing, we had, after all, come out together.  It was my neediness that worried me, and her independence.  It might have been a lone act of insight and maturity on my part, or a needless self-sacrifice for the sake of the melodramatic.  Given my history, it's more likely the latter.  I remember writing very bad poetry about it.

The funny thing about poetry, for me, at least, is that the more I want to write it, the worse the poem is.  Or rather, the emotion driving the poetry needs to be the desire for the words themselves.  I can't write poetry from love or longing; I write poetry from the words that circle in my head as I drive home in the snow, the words that make the cadence I fall asleep to.

Not this.


I will not have a good piece by the end of the day.

But I will have a finished piece.


3. Developing the print

Slide the paper into the developer. Use tongs to make sure the entire surface is submerged. Pick up one edge of the tray and begin to rock gently up and down. You want to keep the developer moving, across and back, so that the each molecule meets the photograph, changes it, and is whisked away again to be mixed in with the whole.

You can lose yourself in this, the slow rocking, up and down, the developer washing across and back, calling forth an image from empty space.

You are calling ghosts, here in the dark. You coax them close, and bind them down. The paper holds the memory of the light it has seen. The negative holds its memory it’s moment in the light. And those memories, rather than blending and fading, growing old and dying, they stay. A photograph cannot reconcile what was with what is. A photograph lives forever in was. And isn’t that all a ghost is? The universe’s failure to forget the past. Or the past’s unwillingness to be forgotten.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another house

Another house.  I am testing out a different interactive environment creation software (Quest3D) to possibly replace Vizard.  This is the beginning of a demo program to show off the software to the faculty and students.  I'm not sure just how refined I want to get with the modeling, since the point is the programming.  There will be an opening screen, a menu screen, a glowing clock radio that shows the right time, a TV that can be turned on & off or the volume adjusted, a door that opens when you get near it, a daytime/nighttime toggle, and three different interior decorating ideas that can be switched back and forth in one of the rooms. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to the Darkroom

I'm back to darkroom manual.  I think that, especially given the time constraints, this is the most practical option.

Here are bits I'm working on:

It’s the fixer that stays with you. Even though it’s the smell of stop bath that brings tears to your eyes, it’s the fixer that lingers long after you emerge back into lit rooms again. It sticks to your hands, no matter how many times you wash them. You find yourself talking to a friend when suddenly you can smell your hands as they move in front of you. You try to like the smell, because it’s the smell of productivity, it’s the good days that end with the smell of fixer. But it never works.

It’s the fixer that ruins your clothes, too. You never see the marks, it dries clear, but when you take your clothes out of the wash you’ll find the marks, like tea-stains, on everything you own.

The invention of photography was really the invention of fixer. Scientists had long before discovered that silver compounds responded to light. They coated pieces of paper or metal with those compounds and set drawings or leaves on top of them, watching the shadow of the object create it’s double on paper. But then the paper or metal slowly darkened, and the images fled. What no one could do was get an image to stay.

Anything that casts a shadow can create a photograph. A negative is just a fancy way of casting a shadow. And everything we see in a finished photograph was once a shadow amongst the light. We create by withholding. We hold back the light, and then we hold back the darkness.

A photograph defies the natural order of things. A photograph stays.

I heart things, FOR REALZ

First photo!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Week 7, part 1: bad dreams

Weight this morning, 204 pounds.  Loss this week, 3 pounds.  Total loss, 13 pounds.

Bad dreams last night.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Because old Press-Citizen articles are sometimes hard to find

Pianos survive '08 flood only to be damaged in flooded building

A leaky toilet and kitchen sink pipe caused a flood at a northside rental space Tuesday that extensively damaged six pianos belonging to Hancher Auditorium and the University of Iowa School of Music — including a nine-foot Steinway Model D concert grand piano valued at $120,000.

About 1:23 a.m. Tuesday, an Iowa City police officer reported seeing water flowing out of 209 N. Linn St., a building rented by UI to store items from Hancher and the School of Music, UI spokesman Tom Moore said. The pianos were moved to the rental space to save them from being damaged in the 2008 flood.

University staff was alerted to the situation by 6 a.m., though Moore said, “Even if someone had gotten there five minutes later, the damage at that point (had already been done).”

Of the 10 pianos stored in the building, five of the School of Music’s Steinway pianos and one of Hancher’s — the Steinway Model D — were severely damaged, Moore said. The remaining Hancher pianos, another Steinway Model D and a six-foot baby grand piano, had standing water only an inch or so up their casters and are repairable, he said. Seven of the 10 pianos belonged to the School of Music; three belonged to Hancher.

Moore said the full estimated cost of damage has yet to be determined, but he estimates the university will pay between $10,000 and $15,000 to clean and repair the rented building.

“That’s the only real, solid estimate we have (right now),” Moore said.

Moore said UI officials will have a restoration expert review the damage of the 1979 Steinway Model D that suffered extensive damage to see if can be repaired. If not, UI will spend $120,000 to replace it, he said.

As for the School of Music’s six-foot Steinway pianos, school of music director David Gier said Thursday that those damaged were more than 40 years old and near the end of their life cycle as teaching pianos, so they won’t be repaired.

“We’ve always had a couple pianos that we needed to rotate through, so our long-term plans were to replace these pianos in preparation for getting into the new (school of music) building,” Gier said. “At that time, we will need full inventory in order to outfit the new space, and we have plans to do that.”

The pianos, along with historical and financial records from Hancher that were stored in the facility, were moved to the Linn Street building during the 2008 flood, which destroyed Hancher Auditorium and the School of Music.

Staff said the irony that the materials were moved from one flooded location to, eventually, another, is not lost on them.

“It’s highly ironic that we remove (the pianos) from flooded facilities to protect them, and here they’ve been water damaged,” Moore said.

“It seems like we can’t get away from water, no matter what, but in the grand scheme we’ll get by,” Gier said. “It’s ironic for sure, but it’s a small part of a long story that’s unfolding here, as we move from 2008 into a new building in the future.”

Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said Thursday he is most saddened by the memories that have been washed away in the damage.

“Those were exceptional instruments over the years, and the artists loved them,” he said. “We are definitely pretty saddened by it, although at the same time, they’ve been with us for a long time.”

Moore said all equipment has been removed from the rental space and will be stored in the Studio Arts Building while the Linn Street building is cleaned and repaired. UI’s lease on the building through Stoddard Rentals LLC expires July 31.


I love this opening:

Hello, my name is Angela, and I’m a ghost. 

Not the chain-rattling, woooo-oooooh kind. Or the leaving-a-faint-smell-of-hyacinths-in-the-air kind. I’m not going to haunt you. I’m not actually dead. 

Now I have to figure out why this is true.  I could say I'm unable to change, to reconcile past with present, or that I'm invisible or insubstantial in some way.  I could spin the truth until it said that.  But I don't want to go that way.  I'm actually feeling very embodied at the moment, and I think I'm dealing with the past pretty well.  So there has to be some other reason.

Maybe alter it a little and make ghosts instead of being a ghost?  That's much easier to make true; all my virtual furniture could easily be ghost furniture:

My name is Angela, and I make ghosts. 

Not the chain-rattling, woooo-oooooh kind. Or the leaving-a-faint-smell-of-hyacinths-in-the-air kind.  I don't kill people.  I make furniture.

I like it, but not as much. 

So what else does it mean to be a ghost?  Besides the physical traits, which I don't have.  Or the not-letting-go traits, which I don't want to work with.  I'm certainly not elusive.  I do a few archaic things, but not in an archaic fashion.

I could have a best friend who's a ghost.  Making Sheila a ghost would be easy, too.  But that story already stalled out, and I'm not sure I could make it work now.  Plus, I'd want to cannibalize what I've already started on that one, and that's cheating.


So, how much help am I allowed to get here?  I would never want anyone to write for me, but a conceptual sounding board would be pretty damn useful right about now.

10 grand pianos

Of course, now that I can write, nothing comes out.  I'm starting to reconsider my plan.

I think I might go back to where I started.  What was versus what is, and the negotiations between the two.

The space left behind by Graphic Design is now the home of 10 grand pianos.  They survived the flood, and then a water pipe broke in their storage space, and now maybe half of them are damaged beyond repair.  Or beyond what they are worth to repair.  It's a goddamn tragic poem next door.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I don't even need to make a screen for this.  I think I'll use paper cutouts.

I love t-shirts.  Love love love.

(Technically, this shouldn't be tagged I made this, because I haven't yet.  But I will!)


I needed to host this stolen image somewhere.  If you want one, you can get it from Ray Gun.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ghost Picture, part 3: The more you know

While Wikipedia surfing as preparation for commie pinko writing contest, I discovered that sodium thiosulfate, the active ingredient in most photographic fixers, can also be used as an antidote to cyanide poisoning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ghost Picture part 2

Something else to ponder, besides the nature of ghosts, is what kind of thing I am writing.  I know that it's nonfiction, which just means that anything that isn't true or real needs to be framed as such.  (One of the interesting things about nonfiction is the lengths it can be stretched.  I can tell a story entirely from my imagination, as long as the story is framed so that the reader knows.)

I could write a biography or account of a historical event.  But that seems unlikely.  I'd have to, you know, learn stuff first.

(Although, I could write about something I already know.  Like photography.  Which happens to be the subject of the prompt.  This deserves some thought.)

I still probably won't write a biography or historical event.  But I might write an instruction manual for silver gelatin printing.

Which means that a photograph is exactly the right prize to send in. 

Brother Mark and Brother Augustin, St. Albert's Priory, Oakland CA

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ghost (disambiguation)

trace image, ghosting

lingering effects (like the rocking of the ground when I step off a boat) when I have not yet reconciled then with now




a ghost of a chance

phantom limb syndrome

light flares

light leaks


dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria

He's pretty cute for a Ghostbuster, she says




There is always at least one sense missing- a ghost might be seen, heard, but not touched.  Or heard and smelled but not seen or felt.  Or felt but not seen or heard.  If you can see, feel, hear, touch, and taste, then it is real.

Has there ever been a ghost one could taste?

Am I cheating?

marshmallow ghosts



Back to the whole tasting thing.  The ghost in that silly Nora Roberts book I just read manifested as the smell of flowers, occasional sighting, and occasional writing-on-the-mirror-in-steam.  Lots of ghosts can be heard.  And sometimes ghosts can be felt; they run ghostly fingers across your arm, or fling furniture around in a ghostly rage.  But taste never comes into it.  Which means that the best method of ghost-detection is to try to lick your ghost.  If you can lick it, it's not a ghost.  Free advice, from me to you.

Ghost Pictures

Oh dear.

I did, in fact, enter the Commie Pinko Writing Contest.  And now that means I actually need to write something.  A nonfiction something about ghost pictures.  Or, tangentially about ghost pictures.  Or somehow occupying a place together in the Great Venn Diagram in the Sky with ghost pictures.  You get the idea.

I feel like I've been thinking about ghosts a lot, lately.  Or, I've been thinking about things that used to exist, which is kind of the same thing.  I think a ghost is anything that I can summon, behind my eyelids or inside my throat, even though I know it doesn't exist.

I am trying to brainstorm what I might say, so that I am better prepared when I try to say it.  But it's very hard to think about writing something without actually, you know, writing something.  It's the everything but, which I was never very good at maintaining once the clothes were off.  Everything but always just turned into anything goes, which turned into a vague sense of disappointment and lingering smell of cigarettes.

I turn everything into sex.  I could probably play "six degrees of sex" in which I take random thoughts and link them to sex, with no more than six connections. 

Or I could do something else.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Can I be rusty at a skill I've never really had in the first place?