ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Graffiti and Marginalia

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.

“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)

Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.

I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.

I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.

It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.

Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…

Rosslyn in the Desert

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico (Photo credit: Princess Stand in the Rain)

As of tomorrow I’m at the halfway point for my desert retreat in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Eleven days in; eleven days to go. That’s 12+ hours/day, six days a week editing, revising, shuffling and rewriting. In silence. Without interruptions or distractions. Without internet access. Without excuses!

It’s been a productive stretch despite the fact that my manuscript is still bloated and desperate for a liposuction/stomach staple two-for-one… But I’ve discovered the heart and soul of my story, and the next two weeks I’ll perform ruthless, unsentimental surgery, cutting away all nonessential narrative. With luck and endurance I’ll return from the desert at month’s end with a svelte memoir.

I spent the first week focusing on the most enjoyable sections, and last week I dug into the darker sections. Death, depression, failures, violations. It was a tough week. A proverbial roller coaster ride. More like a bucking bronco ride. I’m feeling whiplashed and bruised today, but licking my wounds in Santa Fe.

Each Saturday I’ve driven two hours from the Chama canyonlands to the city where I lived from 1996-9. I re-provision, de-soil my laundry and pig out on delicious New Mexican food. And after a week without telephone or internet access, I spend hours on the phone with my amazing bride. My generous, understanding bride who’s tolerating my time at the hermitage. I offer my deepest gratitude to this woman who transformed my world over a decade ago, the woman who’s allowing me to share our sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing and always intimate story.

Thanks also to the Benedictines for use of their handsome hermitage and to my colleagues at The Depot Theatre and Champlain Area Trails for letting me vanish for sooooo long. The last couple of weeks have reminded how much I love Scrivener, so thanks to the good folks at Literature and Latte for simplifying my work on Rosslyn Redux. And thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged and pushed me. Now it’s time to jump in my jalopy and head back to the desert for another productive week. Cheers!

Lamy on a January Evening, 2010

Lamy, New Mexico

This evocative image, created by Gene Aker, a friend and former colleague in Santa Fe, transforms a lonely road in Lamy, New Mexico into a quasi-inebriated dreamscape. Or maybe a stormy sunset when the skies are tinted with soot from forest fires? Gene explains how he created the image: “shot old school. 5×7 Korona camera (100 years old). Hp5 sheet film, D76 developer… I selenium toned the print. Then when I scanned it, I hit the sepia button — then cranked up the shadows to darken. Everything digital is a lie! but the print looks pretty cool–a 5×7 contact print.”

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