posted and written by Caroline Picard

This continues from the piece posted yesterday about Private Investigators.

The Therapist I.

Obligatory interviews with the visiting therapist were no better.

It was one thing to have a death in the camp—a death in summer’s family—quite another to entertain interlopers from elsewhere, adults who came into their community to observe the behavior of respective camp inhabitants—many of whom were still convinced that Barry had not died at all.

The therapist—a middle-sized woman with gold jewelry and modest glasses and brown floofy hair—it was always down and set, mysteriously, in the exact same position, trimmed like a topiary, to create an oval of bushy brown that perfectly framed her very central, round face. She looked kind and smelled clean, she had no polish on her nails and always wore khaki, or white, shorts with the shirt tucked in, the waist just below her ample chest, tied with a thick belt. She wore ankle socks and Keds. She had pink cheeks.
She looked like a mother, someone said. But that’s just to trick you, someone else replied (at the campfire after Boggis and Bunts had left already, swilling hip flasks). She met kids in the cafeteria when the cafeteria was closed. When the cafeteria was closed it smelled something like old eggs and fresh-baking cookies and red peppers. Perhaps a dash of dish soap. Her perfume mingled and melded with everything, and within a short time, her scent seemed to distill the other smells, to overcome them such that by the end of her workday, just before supper, the cafeteria didn’t smell like any of the other things at all. It smelled simply of her—a sweet, clean smell. After a week her scent was oppressive, depressing, such that the campers avoided the dining hall at all cost.

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posted by Caroline Picard

EITHER THE WALLPAPER GOES, OR I DO.

Natalie DiCenzo

Some people collect those little tabs from the tops of assorted soda cans.  Others accrue tacky, plastic key chains from various tourist traps in order to document what travels they’ve embarked upon throughout their lives. Certain little old ladies may even eventually accumulate a horde of housecats over the years. What I’ve begun to collect are items of an entirely different variety. A horse of a different color, you might say. These are not just knickknacks haphazardly displayed on shelves or meowing in a senior citizen’s apartment; what I have begun to collect are last words.

They’re our final moments—the ultimate statement of our entire lives. After that, are no second chances, no re-dos, and there’s no going back. That’s it, you’re done, the end.

In numerous instances, human beings have been reported to utter some rather interesting things with their final dying breaths. Take inventor Thomas Edison for instance, who proclaimed, “it is very beautiful over there,” wherever over there is. Or perhaps you’d like to give leave some words of wisdom to the world, as international hotel mogul Conrad N. Hilton did when he advised to “leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” Perhaps even the case of “Severus…. please…” should be included in this mix. These were the last words spoken by the great Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore moments before being killed by the Avada Kedavra curse in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Most of us probably aspire to say something at least somewhat meaningful with our last words, like Dumbledore did in my humble, unbiased, unprejudiced opinion. But the fact of the matter is that in most cases we cannot exactly choose our last words, now can we? And though it is certainly not healthy to live your life in fear of death, sometimes it is pertinent to realize that not all of us will be lying on our deathbed at a ripe old age, surrounded by our loved ones. Unfortunately, if you think about it, we really could die at any given moment of time. We could be involved in a car accident or a plane crash, be hit with a stray bullet from a gang fight, drown in the bathtub, or choke on the Frosted Flakes we’re eating for breakfast. There are an infinite number of different manners in which we could perish, and we can never know if or when one of those many ways might happen to us.

Take extraordinarily witty author and poet Oscar Wilde for example. His last exclamation in life was, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.” And then he died, on November 30, 1900. For some inexplicable reason, perhaps partly because of the wonderful irony of that final statement, to me that just seems like such a sensational last thing to say. When the time comes for me to speak my last, I can only wish that more than a century later my words will hold a minuscule shred of importance in the life of an arbitrary student as well.

Now, to be completely honest, I am rather terrified of the thought of death.  The notion of simply not existing petrifies me beyond belief. To be even more forthright, I have absolutely no clue what happens to us when we do die, and though I would really love for there to be a life after this one, there is really no way to know for sure. After we slip away from our existence on earth, what we leave behind through our actions and our words is all that we will have left to be remembered by. We all hope to leave a legacy; to be remembered after our passing is the closest thing that we have to immortality.

This is why we need to make sure that our words count. Of course I’m not saying that every single word that escapes our lips needs to be laden with unparalleled wisdom, knowledge, and eloquence. Everything we say doesn’t have to be entirely empowering and profound. Let’s face it, in a generation where people communicate widely through omgs and lols, that’s going to be pretty difficult to come by. All that I’m trying to keep in mind is that we need to be a bit more conscientious of what we’re saying, because we can never exactly be aware if those words will be the last ones that we ever utter.

Natalie DiCenzo, and I am currently a sophomore at Quaker Valley High School in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

Differences Between States

February 11, 2010

posted by caroline picard

written by Maya Deren

another excerpt from

Divine Horsemen

We look at the corpse and we know that it is dead because we remember what it is to be alive. A critical change has occurred. Yet all that is visible is merely the evidence of this event. The root of the difference is invisible. The stillness of the corpse is, in itself, no different from the stillness of a sleeper. We know that it is not sleep because we know that it is forever; but this foreverness, this time, is itself invisible. The stillness, even of the heart is evidence of death but it is not itself death, just as movement–the mobility as of an object moved–is not always evidence of life and is certainly not life itself. So we are foreced to conceive of life as an inner power, a force which may be manifest in the movement of the matter which contains it. The moment of death, then, is a separation forever, of this life force from the flesh, the matter. And this invisible force s, in turn, more than the energy of matter as manifest in movement; it is also an energy of mind, the capacity for memory and meaning, for discrimination and invention. Whether called intelligence, consciousness, spirit of soul, it is the invisible action within man which motivates and molds his visible acts and expressions.

posted and written by Caroline Picard

While sitting around a table last night I learned that Adrian Balboa has a real burial plot at the Laurel Hill Cemetary. It blows my mind–particularly when it’s in a cemetary with other, ‘real’ dead people and particulary when Adrian’s shows no distinction, i.e. that her death would be fictional, as compared to the surrounding others. Instead the existence of her headstone hypothesizes that the death of a fictional character is as legitimate as the death of any other person. And of course any number of jokes could be made (vying for the rights of such marginalized and culturally diminished characters as Popeye, or Allen Bauer (Splash), or arguing that Pessoa’s heteronyms are as independently vital as anyone else, perhaps deserving to vote etc), yet at the same time it says something, I think, about the culture we live in, Adrian’s character and Philadelphia. Or more importantly, who Rocky speaks to.

In the latter aspects–her character and her audience, she probably gets more visitors than any number of the other graves–in other words, it’s likely that the Laurel Hill Cemetary would get more visitors (and possibly income?) because of her, and therefore it would be in their best interest to play along, so to speak.

And Rocky has always been a point of pride for Philadelphians. Sylvestor Stallone had a life-size model of himself (as Rocky) fashioned from bronze. He donated this to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to be installed at the top of their stairs–they tried to refuse it, South Philly took it and set up the stature in football stadium, there was much outcry, the museum relented and put the statue at the base of the stairs by way of compromise. Meanwhile, people are running up and down those stairs all hours of the day, whether to excercise (as Rocky did), or as tourists to pretend to be him. And why not, he’s the one that wasn’t supposed to be famous, the one who had been overlooked most of his life, a child of circumstance, talented but generally going nowhere (except by a fluke intervention of chance).

So. It makes sense that people would identify with Rocky. It would make sense that they’d identify with Adrian as another kind of hero–after all, Cambden is right across the river. A town where 44% of the city’s residents live in poverty, the highest rate in the nation. As of 2006 the median household income was of $18,007. A few years ago, Cambden closed the public library and opened a prison! Its shocking, especially when one imagines the history of this part of the country, its roots of decadence and colonialism. So again, no wonder Rocky is a hero. (His posters still litter the streets of the Italian Market–purchasable at any number of establishments, most of which otherwise sell food and sundry goods).

Ok. But. As far as how it relates to our culture, this for me is the most interesting point. I feel like something profound happens when a culture is moved to perform burial rites for a character. It says as much about the importance of said character as it does the meaning of death to the culture. It is as though death itself is treated as a kind of fiction or surface, one unequivocally significant to ideas as to material. Or, in another way, to the surface of a person (i.e. the role Talia Shire played) as it would Talia Shire. While that might seem to legitimize the surface in one sense, it undermines the idea of an authentic self.

Similarly, when Michael Jackson died there were all kinds of rumors that his death was a hoax–a celebrity stunt for publicity, where, like Elvis, any number of sigtings would ensue until he eventually put out another album and went on tour to throngs of disbelieving fans. Here again, there was an element of disbelief around death. The idea of celebrity (and capital) seemed almost to rise above and against death. In such a way that, had Michael Jackson survived (looking peculiar but ageless) our cultural experience of death would have changed drastically.

I think about this stuff because I can’t help feeling like death and mortality are two primary and fundamental extenuating circumstances that afflict and inspire humanity–defining the way we see ourselves and define ourselves in the world. While such a view is as tenable as the application of any other critical view (i.e. feminist theory, marxist theory, etc), it highlights such instances as these. Which is always pretty exciting.

Dancing Young Men and Octopii

September 9, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard

Last week we released the North Georgia Gazette. As part of that release, we had two readings–one at The Whistler, the other at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park. At The Whistler, Basia Kapolka read on behalf of the Gazette, reciting a poem about the setting of the sun for three months. John Huston followed with a lecture about his recent expedition to the Arctic and after that Lily Robert-Foley read some passages from her end notes. We were lucky enough to see Devin King read as well–he had prepared a response to the Gazette (it’s awesome: it involves ghosts and villianized octupii and Victor Hugo) and I will post part of that response below, encouraging all of you to follow it up to his blog, Dancing Young Men From High Windows. After that, Nick Butcher from Sonnenzimmer played with Jason Stein. The whole thing was fantastic (I thought) and while an awkward MC, I had a great time.

Devin also read this piece at 57th Street Books–a nice gathering, slightly more intimate, there was an old couple in the corner who chuckled periodically. Another girl eating a sandwich. Anyway. Many thanks to our hosts for letting us have the reading, both were exceedingly gracious (Paul (the bartender and mastermind drink gourmet), for instance, would shake his cocktails in the basement stairwell to avoid making noise–I couldn’t believe how considerate)….and of course to all participants, helpers, proofreaders and contributors: here’s to a job well done and thank you thank you thank you.

octopus-400

Victor Hugo’s Last Musical

The musical’s grand opener is called, “We belong to the night,” and then there’s the famous actor Hooper, done up in a pelt but looking like a bat, bounding on all fours, giggling, his back to the curtain, trying to find a dark, circular, puzzle image. There is a detachment in his gambol, a kind of stoicism of the present; the alternately accusing and mutely questioning face of a dead man is all that describes his strange twisting associative dance. All features belong to the actor, Hooper, himself: a force utterly deployed in the world at any given moment, entirely characterized by its full set of features.
§
Ever since the philosophers distinguished the living from the non-living children have seemed to display an extensive capacity for awe and wonder along with their horror, a horror that remains distinctly consistent, arising from an experience of cognitive dread which cannot be escaped or evaded. At times Hooper’s actions on the stage suggest that all humans takes things “as” what they are, the actor claims that even blindly using a hammer takes it “as” a hammer. It was such an unusual and unlikely event, this musical; like when the centaur is mated with the cheetah, and their off-spring is not some hellish monstrosity, but a thoroughbred colt able to carry us for half a century and more.
§
In the autumn of 1853 Victor Hugo’s family began talking to ghosts. The American habit of table-tapping had reached Europe a few months earlier and the Hugos, bored and in exile, began by contacting their child Leopoldine, who had drowned in a boating accident ten years earlier. At first a sarcastic patriarch, Victor became enthralled by the practice and eventually would talk to Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere, Aeschylus, Galileo, Moses, Jesus Christ, St. Augustine, Voltaire, and Death itself.

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