issue #18



I am attending a new seminar with Mark Scarbrough, this time up in Salisbury Connecticut, a town in the northwest corner of the state. The ride is another half hour beyond Washington (where we read Emily Dickinson with him), and not all of it as pleasantly rural as Route 63, but two hours with Mark is worth the roundtrip, in time and environs. The end-of-winter landscape – dirty snow, ratty leaf litter, and crumpled plastics – is not unsupportive of our subject author’s penchant for the bleak, even though he writes from and about the Deep South. This spring we are reading Faulkner, who was the center of Mark’s dissertation at Madison. Even though Mark was electrified/elated as a young man by his discovery and first reading of Absalom, Absalom! – seeing himself on a page, feeling written, known, given breath, as a southern man – he intended his scholarship to be as a medievalist. But a Faulkner seminar given by Toni Morrison changed his course. (No doubt!) Now all of that inherited and newly wrought wisdom and insight are passing to us, and I am luxuriating in it, word by precious word.

The first of Faulkner’s work we read was If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, and we read it complete before the first seminar meeting. Without any of Mark’s commentary I found myself subsumed and entranced – embedded, silkened – giving myself over to the idiom and times, to the place of the South, willingly flooded, floating, absorbed, transported, witnessing, watching, wondering, yearning. I made my sense of the work, and then after two lectures, layered in what Mark (and Ms. Morrison) and Faulkner himself give light to, what they together uncovered, discovered, revealed about us all, the colonized peoples of modernity whose only salvation is art, that hopeful endeavor which suspends us humanely, tenuously, tenderly between meaning and meaninglessness.

For those of you that don’t know the book, If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem comprises two novellas alternately told: The Old Man and The Wild Palms. Old Man refers to the mighty Mississippi, and wild palms to the Gulf coast and from the first I wondered if the river would meet the sea, as it does in the delta; if the stories would cross either in plot or landscape or metaphor. I think they do, and not in any overt or cheap B-movie way. (Faulkner meticulously keeping his Hollywood scriptwriting separate, as work, not Art.) Rather the main characters each make their way and are carried to the same man-made landscape, a delta of sorts we call prison. The stories do wend and weave.

Both stories are tales of humans caught in the forces of nature, though they recognize, confront, and illuminate struggles that play out at greatly different natural scales: the unconquerable Earth processes outside ourselves on the one hand, and on the other, the evolutionary mandate of all life to reproduce, to procreate – that relentless internal driver no less overwhelming than flood or quake or wildfire. A Force Majeure, each: flood and passion, water and blood, rapids and flow channeling detritus, waste through human landscapes, both charted and not.

The Tall Convict in The Wild Palms battles floodwater uncontainable by levee, uncontrollable in any way, and despite his many chances to escape, despite an opportunity to survive by his own hand, satisfied, dignified by elemental labor, he chooses to return to custody, to return the boat not his, to return his charge the pregnant woman, to gainsay the safety of prison and of convention, to embrace an alienated labor and the company of men, so as to eschew the confounding circumstances of freedom and sex. He willingly pays the high price of freedom from.

In The Wild Palms Charlotte and Harry, appositively, are on the run, fleeing the tsunami of conventional domesticity, the swamping of partnered love by parenthood, the heavy heavy burdens of conformity and safety. They say no, together and separately, to security made meaningless by its provider: the two bad arts of pulp fiction and decorative figurines. And also to their never-to-be-born child, the unwanted agent of another depersonalization, another subjugation, and a harbinger of the death of romantic love. Charlotte pays the highest price for freedom to – to be other than a procreative subject and a creative serf. I see her as a heroine of sorts, although Faulkner did not write her as a main character. (Harry is an antihero, and unremarkable, unloveable in his ineffectual rebellion and sensual pander.) I identify with Charlotte’s struggle to be more than a vessel, to keep primary the love of her life, to define and create herself rather than be defined biologically, hormonally – to challenge the change in selfhood prescripted by nature. Contraception gives women this choice now; tragically for Charlotte the only out was abortion, and her gain was nought. As for myself, I am undefeated. I have wrestled nature (and society) to a tie, preserving the very intellect that makes me me, giving up procreation and its lineal claim on immortality to have instead a creative life, a life lived co-creatively, a life filled with creation. I have done this without forsaking love, or the blessings of children; miraculously they have found me, and what I am and know, what I feel and make – of sinew, nerve, and sight – will live on in them, and beyond.




I am spinning, floating, suspended after Mark’s two lectures on If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, while all of life conspires to conflate and converse and heckle and cheer. Mark has added many layers of understanding to my read of the book – the whole of Faulkner’s work, really – bringing in contexts and criticism pertinent and rich with the meanings of transactional economics (wrought by industrial capitalism), regionalism (exalted and reconfigured, re-presented to mean a nation), the Global South, Reconstruction, the contemporaneous arts of Faulkner’s time, and gender. It is almost too much to process, to feel, to absorb.

I am caught on Mark’s first analysis, presenting the disrupted narratives of modernity (no story/ different stories/ stories differently told), in music, dance, and theater, which he uses to expose the story-less-ness of the book. His example is Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring, disjointed members, pieces without a story line. As Mark explains, the two novellas of If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem similarly are not one narrative, nor two stories either. Neither are teleological, to mean they are not linearly expositive, and do not arrive at any ends. Rather they betray elliptical or circular notions of story and time, deriving and gaining meaning and power from their juxtaposition and association, and from the conversations between themselves of gender and motif and setting, even as the novellas occur in different times. Faulkner’s stylistic choice puts me in mind of two aspects of both my art and design work: collage – so non-linear and layered – and the co-creative aspect of any audience’s experience of any art work. This is both the way I know, and the way I make.

Mark finds two novels in the book with this holistic analysis – one an anti-colonialist colonialist novel; the other an anti-existentialist existentialist novel.

To mean in the first case that Faulkner neither validates or romanticizes the South as it existed before carpet-baggers raided it like so many hedge fund managers. He recognizes – rues – the loss of humanity centered in profiteering, but he presents the cultural societal fabric being rent apart by it as suffocating, stultifying, enraging to those who do not, cannot opt for the freedoms implied/offered by social change. Mark posits The Wild Palms novella as carrying this thesis. The only salvation, redemption for both Harry and Charlotte is in the art they make and do not sell, that they make for themselves: Charlotte’s sculpture The Bad Smell, and Harry’s narrative ruminations. Even so, Harry and Charlotte are tragic characters, defeated, Harry distinctly un-heroic. Although he survives, and lives in order to remember, to embody the memory of choice, to not disappear in a whitewash, his rebellion is meaningless, futile, unremarkable. He is in the end unlikeable.

There might be a bit of romanticization, though, in The Tall Convict’s journey in the grip of The Old Man. On the surface, he is written heroically in an existential sense, doggedly persistent to stay within the frame given him despite many opportunities to escape. He does not fight Fate, but accepts it, willingly tossed about, willingly rowing. This despite one memorable escapade where he lives primitively by his own hand and finds much satisfaction, worth, and dignity doing so. But Faulkner presents this romanticized non-transactional survival interlude as a joke, a farce, as no solution to the problem of modernity. The Tall Convict simply experiences it as another page in his book, not as an alternative he can or will choose. The Old Man is in the end not comedic, classically. On the contrary, the Tall Convict is laughable – comedic in a contemporary way. He has no art – living by one’s wits does not count – and therefore no redemption. He has given in to convention for the sake of safety, which is not, in the end, a moral position.

Heady stuff, but I find Faulkner’s critique of transactional economics subsuming, resonant, exhilarating, exalting. Because this is where I live, as an artist: I do not sell my work. I do not understand any piece of art I have made as a commodity. My works represent ideas, discovery, and learning. And so they are for viewing and sharing, and for the conversations they incite, encourage, engender. My art belongs in exhibits, it belongs together, and not to any person. It is un-owned. The realization is overwhelming. It stops me. I am tearful, affirmed and grateful: I know who I am.

And then, out of time, another story weaves in. I have received a curious email, sent to MUSE. It is an inquiry about my landscape design for the town of Bay City Oregon, done oh-so-long-ago, when I was a student. Here it is:

“Enjoyed reviewing your work on Bay City at   Hoping you could refresh my memory as to when this work was done for the city.   They are working on a new vision plan, but thought yours was for something else.
Anyway, beautiful work.”

I am astounded, who, why, what, why now? I reply, needing answers, trying to make sense of her interest:

How nice to hear an appreciation of my design work, thank you for sharing yours.

My proposal for Bay City was made as a University of Oregon Landscape Architecture student, in the spring (I think) of 2005, under the tutelage of Anita Van Asperdt .  Mine was one of many proposals, and none were built.  I believe the town was unable to raise money for any work – a tax increase proposed for that purpose was voted down. I’ve always thought it a missed opportunity. I’m happy to hear the town is again considering re-vitalizing efforts.

I’m so curious about your connection to Bay City – do you live there? I have such a sweet spot for the place, having spent so much time getting to know it. I’m almost homesick, hearing from you.  🙂
Do lmk what’s going on there –

She responds with words so generous, I am filled to overflowing. She has remembered all along, kept the vision in her mind’s eye, waiting for the moment to bring it again into the view of others.

That is where I thought this work was from.  I was mayor at the time, in fact I served on the Council from 1997 until last December.  Interest in the park and Patterson continues and something that makes that happen is your work.   I will continue to serve on the Bay City Vision Committee and presently work as a consultant on some land use projects.  It was wonderful to come across your site.

Thank you!  and thank you for portraying my community so beautifully.

Faulkner hits hard again. Here is the meaning too of my – best, most rewarding – design work; it is non-transactional. It is one reason I get no play, no pay, and yet exactly why the work endures, wherein lies its power and import. The value of the work is un-accountable but clear. Community design in its best sense is the design of place that fosters community. It is meant to enhance human life, social relations, our interactions and our bonds with each other – the non-negotiable fabric that supports meaning, life itself. These things are never for profiteering, are not for making money, not for economic gain.

Resonance with Faulkner’s meanings, knowings, offerings – and the manner of his display, his exhibit, his unearthing – spirals – expands – inflates uncontrollably. I see myself un-Reconstructed, un-Industrialized, Irreducible, More Than Exchanged, non-linear, Collaged, Interacting, Dialogical. It is too much. My body can hardly contain, bear it. I feel as though I will fly apart like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I’m sputtering, spinning, chattering, gesturing fragments at Bruce just home from the office, struggling to put it, keep it together.

He centers me with a gentle, quizzical smile and seven words. “This is why we made MUSE, Doob.” It is the gift he has given me, of MUSE, that my work exists always, is always on exhibit, elliptically and without end, new conversations starting, old ones continuing, my ideas living, breathing, talking, conflating, in a marvelously un-transacted way.
After a fraught fifty-five years, at odds with so many contemporary conventions, so many social tenets of modern life, I am wonderfully at peace.

Thank you Faulkner, Thank you Mark, Thank you Bruce.
And thank you, Dear Reader, for playing along.

See Bay City’s design again: here


Blood Simple

Blood Simple

We are reading four of Faulkner’s novels with Mark, and the second is Light in August, which I read years and years ago. I didn’t recall any of the story upon this read, but I do remember being surprised, shocked, in wonder – I’d say amazed, if it weren’t such an overused word – upon reading it the first time, due to its subject and unromantic portrayal, and also at the unfamiliar craft and power of Faulkner’s writing. I had picked the book up for the title. The change of light in August was a new awareness then, marking that coming-out-of-childhood jump in scale, where the Earth suddenly has a serene and heedless presence, an existence independent of all unnoticed human doings. I was enveloped in the light of August when traveling abroad, in Paris – the sense of it enhanced by everything new-though-old, the city sparse, light of people, grand and extensive and other. And every summer since, for years and years and years, I waited, watchful for that moment when the quality of light transmuted, the sun not so high, the rays slanted and indifferent, summer’s hold slipped to hint at the impending fall. Mark (a southern boy, born and bred) says Faulkner refers instead to the few days in August when the Deep South’s heavy, oppressive summer heat breaks – a respite – but for me the remembered feelings of suspended in-between, of loss and indifference framed my read of the novel this time and the one before.

I won’t recount the plot lines here. They seem to me simply a theater for Faulkner to display his surgical understanding of the South: to articulate the master narratives of a place-time and the mechanisms used to maintain and impose them. The overwhelming feeling I had reading Light in August was fragility. Not as an insignificant, weak, and mortal component of a vast ignoring ignorant universe, but as a social creature, secured by – or exiled from – community. Bruce and I have lived many places and traveled to many more, and over our lifetimes we have gathered much confidence in our ability to live anywhere, thrive anywhere, cosmopolitan and universal in our knowings. But Faulkner exposes the conditionality, the precariousness of belonging, and now I am not so sure. It is a hysteria of sorts (not unlike that of witchy Salem) that delineates the danger of difference, the safety of conformity and the eager willingness – the need – to assign inside and out. Gossip is the time-honed and forever service-able tool that establishes the boundaries of the real, for truth is simply and only what everyone agrees it to be. How easy to lose the fellowship, and how dire the results. The Old South would be a difficult place to claim even a fingerhold, its overarching pillars and rooted bedrock out of reach for anyone new. Not easier for Bruce than me either, despite his growing-up time in West Virginia. We are on the wrong side of history, her-story, the story.

The most beautiful thing about Faulkner’s writing is that he is not teleological in his story-telling – there is little of climax or moral or point or ending. Rather he paints a landscape for you to enter and sense and discover. Mark explains this as a quantum physics experience (the scientist in me forbearing …) but I rather understand Light in August (and Absalom, Absalom! ) as fabric, with extent and rhythm, threads and unfinished ends, woven of characters and events even as the reader watches, the whole eventually apparent and complete, though all the same unfinished, continuing, spinning out and on. Faulkner is a difficult (and unsatisfying) read for many because of this, but I don’t mind doing the work. I find his book-worlds collage-like, layered with many paths and meanings and discoveries, open-ended and divergent. Like me.

Reading Faulkner, though, I have to contend with his misogyny. Mark promised to address it but never quite got there, so I am left to my own perceptions and interpretations. None of the female characters are developed or complete – they seem to be only foils or symbols or the problem. Whether this is (critically) descriptive of the worlds he relates or an authorial point of view I cannot say. But reading Faulkner’s male characters I am suffused and perplexed: why are men so angry? Why are men so angry at women? Why are men so weird about blood? Is menstruation somehow a betrayal of desire? Does procreation make sex ugly, banal, and vulgar? Reveal its animalistic inherence? Is sex just too messy, in its completeness? Maybe all that men want is the romance of zipless fucks. Does blood make love a sham?

Maybe what only a woman can know – the profundity of the electric spark: life beginning within you, while making love to someone you love. It colors sex forever after. It is The Frame. Would that men could know this too.




My birthday is at the end of March, and this year we celebrated with Keith and Emilia, two of the four friends most dear to me. (Printha and Addie the other two, my god-grandchildren who stopped by too, with hugs and chatter.) Bruce made a Buckwheat Pancake and Mimosa Brunch, they brought flowers and a Crown and lovely card. I have waited forty years for friends like them – we are all so matched and complemented in interests and outlook and intelligences it matters not a bit that they are thirty + years younger. No matter the occasion or time of get-together, we are in it for the long haul every time we see them; the talking just does not stop. (Christmas Eve we were up until 4a.m. (to include midnight mass), and only ending because Emilia’s (seventy-year-old!) mother Viv started drifting in her chair.) My birthday Sunday fun-day was no different – Emilia stayed for seven hours beyond the meal. The looping conversations relentlessly articulate our theme, our motto, our purpose:
Art is Salvation; we must fabricate our lives of/with CREATIVITY and ART.
This time discussions of Faulkner (and everything else under the sun) led, as always, to a proliferation of ideas.

So here’s some of what we will do, just because we can.
Just because we must …

» Go to Hawaii together, for Jaimie and Max’s wedding (Kauai!)
» Travel and explore endlessly, visit endlessly
» Make Art That Means Something
» Make Architecture That Matters
» Buy (summer?) homes near each other, in New Hampshire or Maine
» Have a Block Party, with children’s theater, live music, and grills

» Have a SUMMER CAMP for grown-ups

  • design charretting
  • bluegrass hootenany
  • You-Build-It workshop w Bruce
  • Gardening Workshop w Deb
  • GF Cooking for a Crowd
  • plein air landscape collage
  • Book Club read
  • Any other activity you want to bring/share/teach!

» Just for FUN!

  • The Frieda Kahlo party, on Cinco de Mayo
  • unibrows + Frieda duds, or Rivera costume
  • Bruce will smoke a pork shoulder in the Mexican tradition
  • jalapeño poppers
  • guacamole
  • Deb’s verde rice ring
  • Keith’s potent potable creations
  • a fire in the firepit
  • recreations of Frieda’s masterpieces
  • all of their wildly interesting friends
  • laughter, stories, talk, laughter, talk, more talk


  • Let Them Eat (Johnny Red) Corn Cake party on Bastille Day
  • Ridiculously Big Hair (with Eiffel Tower and Statute of Liberty accents) interwoven with straw overalls
  • Cats’ eye opera glasses
  • heels
  • corndogs
  • Bruce’s French smoked bacon
  • peanut butter pie with chocolate and bacon
  • watermelon, cut with a guillotine
  • hot crisp pickled okra
  • French Cafe
  • ummm bourbon and beer
  • A reading of A Tale of Two Cities
  • friends, acquaintances, laughter, debate, talk, and laughter

Beyond all that –
We will know and love their children as our own. As we do them.

my birthday cards

  • DZ 2019 B-Day card-1
  • DZ 2019 B-Day card-2
  • DZ 2019 B-Day card-3
  • DZ 2019 B-Day card-4


Dante, and not…

Dante, and not…

Mark is giving another lecture series, on Dante’s Inferno, which partially overlapped Faulkner, though on a different day of the week, in different libraries of different towns. Our work schedules didn’t allow for attending both and we had to choose. After four weeks of heady Faulkner we decided to try the lighter fare, and so missed The Sound and the Fury. But we went back to Faulkner, after two lectures on Dante, for Absalom, Absalom! And I’m glad we did.

Mark is a gifted speaker, and his first Dante lecture shared historical context and gossip, poetical craft and practice, an array of critical readings, and the advantages and disadvantages of differing translations. He engaged us so well that we lay aside the (now, seemingly,) burdensome prose of Faulkner for an easier, prettier read. But another lecture in and I was longing for substance, for meaning, for relevance. I was bored. Mark chose for our text a translation by the Italian poet John Ciardi, as it preserved almost perfectly the structure and rhyming schemes of the original Italian. I didn’t like it. In English, the verse is sing-song, childishly colors the content to superficial and self-indulgent concerns. I pushed back. I searched for and found the Divine Comedy online, as originally written in the Tuscan dialect. An interesting fact – the great popularity of the work in Dante’s time and afterwards helped institute Tuscan as the language spoken by all of Italy. So a contemporary Italian speaker can read Dante in the original. This excited me. Speaking and reading Spanish – a close Romantic cousin to Italian – has always helped me when in Rome (and restaurants), so I decided to reclaim Dante by reading just what he wrote. It is a much more satisfying and beautiful reading in every poetic sense (though I rely on Google Translate more than I’d like), but still not enough. I share none of Dante’s preoccupations, and am curiously incurious about them. So I put Inferno aside.

Bruce is a trooper. He wasn’t really captivated by Dante, either, but he doesn’t share my willingness to immerse myself in Faulkner, to give myself up to the work. He is exasperated by the density and ellipses, the lack of linearity and discernible story, questioning even the purpose of writing in such a way, about any such things. But he took me back to Salisbury for Mark’s last two lectures anyway, not reading Absalom, Absalom!, and instead just enjoying the leisurely break from routine, the incremental arrival of spring, and Mark’s passionate intellect.

He found sympathy for his vexation, for Mark describes reading Faulkner (and especially Absalom, Absalom!) as bushwacking one’s way through it. It is just one of many descriptions and metaphors of difficulty and pain that let Bruce know he is in good company. Contrary to Mark’s assessment though, Faulkner’s circumnavigations, circulatory weavings are not unsettling to me, nor is the ‘problem’ of unreliable and contradictory narrators. I accept the book as just a collage, a painting – fiction that yet tells the truth. That I am sure I will come to see.

Something I do see, guided as I am by Mark’s critical and historical read, is the constant looping of the colonized, the never-ending struggle to make sense and meaning, to author selfhood and community by those for whom the South’s Master Narrative does not fit, work for, or include. Omg, I am again in free-fall, resonance. This is my real MeToo moment. I too have many many stories of violation, but now they coalesce, annunciate into understanding – the breadth and length of my life as one with that unrecognized, unacknowledged, thwarted, set upon, sabotaged, out-of-bounds other, which is Woman. Those of us who threaten Man, with equal brilliance, unscripted beauty, uncommon passion, unique talent, with agency and sufficiency – with the claim of legitimate and authentic being, un-deferred. Even MUSE is a vehicle to make sense of it, to retaliate, to refuse, another try, to write the right story, to right-size and right-shape the overbearing, oppressive, imposed construct.

Now Mark uses the word – fabrication – the literary device I have sensed and embraced, but he expands its meaning beyond literature and craft to include the very stuff of consciousness. Faulkner’s writing is chaotic, self-similar, it exactly mirrors the way we encounter and experience the world, and make sense of it, fictively. As his readers we rationalize and build the book’s worlds: the Old South, its Lost Cause, Puritan-ism, and Race just in the way the characters do, following Faulkner’s lead. Our different constructions, rather than gainsaying us any superior view, any omniscience, instead prove the inventive point. It is the path to understanding that Faulkner mimics, exposes, unearths, and so he exposes our path – our methods and techniques laid bare, so that even our supra-cognizance thus achieved is also, only, suspect and fashioned – our truths and vision no more or less self-serving and fictive, no more or less true. Faulkner reveals the performative aspect of truth. Truth is what we make it, by/with repeated enactments, stagings, rehearsals, and scripts. We invent our reality, stitch it doggedly, skillfully to our foundational and necessary, life-sustaining Master Narratives. We do not give up our original stories any more easily than the Church gave up the ghost on a geocentric universe, and with no less violence. Read: Antifa; KKK; EarthFirst; NRA; Passover; BLM; La Raza; and every -ism ever thought or spoken.

Oh, Woe to those whose Master Narratives collide.


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