Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Review of Lilith Walks by Greg Bem


In Lilith Walks, no description lasts long, though, because of the remarkable temporary qualities of the “dog walk.” As a literary form, a dog walk feels like a remarkable hybrid between inspiration and constraint. The “dog walk” is descriptive yet concise. It balances deep engagement with time and place and often relies on a lightheartedness to carry forth the spontaneous flashes of experience. Even the usual and ordinary are elevated because dog walking is often about established routines and norms. In Schultz’s approach, the form is opportunity to document where norms are broken, where the exceptional occurs.


Buber 7


If my photograph of Eucalyptus is abstract, then who am I to Eucalyptus? Two-dimensional woman with blue-framed glasses and a flat dog, caught in the act of trying to take a photograph? The sublime melancholy of our lot [is] that every You must become an It in our world. But the tree takes my melancholy and absorbs it into its bark, its colors, its substance, which are not abstract. Because I cannot see far up the tree, my photos are of a narrow band near earth. Does the tree’s curvature make it less abstract? The photograph seems to make it more present to me, as I carry it home, stare at it on my screens. Presence isn’t reality, but the object in relation to the space it’s in. But this is to get too abstract: what I love are the reds and greens, the gaps, the way the tree seems to open mouths (at all angles) into which I can look. Some sap drips look like tongues. `Ahuimanu Bronx cheers. I gave up metaphor for prose, but now it’s back. The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly.

I: What do these colors allow you to do that plain bark would not?


I: Do you get lonely standing up all the time?


I: Do you resent the reputation you have of not casting any shade?


I: With what other beings do your roots communicate?


I: Do you find me and my dog half as fascinating as I do you?


I: I don’t resent your silences. They cushion me against paving equipment, the guy who doesn’t want me taking a picture of his truck, a dog behind the nearby fence.


I: Yours is not a silence that fills in, but one that lives beside the noise.


I: Your sticky black sap clings to my dog’s red leash. I'll up the contrast later.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Buber 6

 “Perhaps I myself am the enemy who must be loved.” Carl Jung. The sentence presumes an “enemy.” It presumes that enemies can be loved, and that by loving them they dissolve. It’s the Henry James School of Buddhism I’m in; we tell the stories of our actions, then think about those actions, and then think again about how we blew it, act again in (or not in) kind, rinse and repeat. In the tragic farce of daily life, we are both actor and spectator, and we know the spectator to be an actor, rather like the baseball umpire who refused to shake a manager’s hand. His refusal inserts him into the game he’s there to represent behind the curtain of his chest protector. No one to protect us now: over half of teenage girls have considered suicide. The tree self-destructs, though that is its process. The girl self-destructs, though that is part of ours. The tree stands alone, like a old woman who believes she can still drive her car, and that’s the pathos of it.

My You acts on me as I act on it. Acts like a tree with two trunks, the one who talks and the other who listens. Tim said, Susan, half your pieces are about listening, while the other half are about arguing. It’s a character feature. The It that is my kindness makes a You of me. The You that is angry, makes an It of us. I can’t say it’s balance, but it’s as close as I come these days. One pan holds as much flour as the other can bear to pull up to level. When we get to level, we’re not happy there. It was so much more fun jumping up and down, telling only enough gossip to make everyone curious. Curiosity’s crucial to your practice, but not the niele form of it, googling friends and relatives to find what traffic violations haunt their digital records. Or worse. Curiosity with no malice seems best, wanting to know more so that sympathetic joys and sorrows appear like colorful beads on a long piece of dental floss. Is Eucalyptus curious? May I interview you to find out? When you respond with reflections of color and not thought, what am I to do with that? Am I given total freedom or has a trap been set for me? Do trees cancel those of us who fail to understand their need for identity positions? Long considered invasive, the eucalyptus has a cross to bear in this regard. The very thing that renders its peeling bark beautiful is what speeds a forest fire towards habitations made of better woods, words. The tree must have a sense of itself as misunderstood, alone in this grove of monkeypods, their trunks dancing upward. Eucalyptus stands like a Puritan, straight, tall, solitary. It has work to do, but some rejoice when it’s cut down. Another in this park was. I don’t remember that, which tells me something now.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Lilith and the laundry line


I was trying to take a camera photograph (the wheels, the buttons!) of a line of laundry through a garage, when an old woman poked her head out from a side door of the house. "I'm taking pictures!" I said, foolishly. Her face was placid, smooth, her dark eyes patient. "You want to take a picture of my flower?" Yes, of course. Lilith and I walked through the garage to her side yard, just past the hanging laundry. There was a gorgeous red amaryllis, with four large blossoms on it. It's the fifth time this flower has bloomed. So I took photos, then Lilith and I turned to leave. I asked if I could take her photograph. She said no. Then: "I'm scared of dogs," she said, as we stood not three feet apart. "One bit me." I assured her Lilith was peaceful, as we left. Two doors down, I took a photograph of two lines of bras hanging in someone else's garage.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Buber 5

The tree is not art, but its photograph is. William Eggleson never dates or titles photographs because they are photographs. Nothing more or less than. Now there’s an equation I can work through, though the boundary between tree and photo begins to blur. After I take a photograph of a truck bed—the rusty toolbox, the tangled rope—a man asks me, “You going take one pikcha my truck, too?” It’s what’s in the truck, not the truck itself, I try to say, before Lilith sees chickens and pulls me away. I do take photographs of chickens, but they’re in relation to my dog, pulling on her red leash, an umbilical between eye and object. The photograph is the subject, if you’re lucky, the force of relation between me and my dog, my dog and the chickens (these bear very different affects). Time in the photograph turns to artifice, gesture or blur. I am still not seen to myself, because I don’t take selfies. Teenage girls are burdened less by history than by social media, a columnist writes. But we put ourselves inside of history in our self-portraits. Wim Wenders’ double-lens effected full focus in Paris, Texas, so that our sad hero could drive through the clear-as-a-bell mesa in his red shirt, shadows falling over his cheeks. He’d forgotten his past; the mesa replaced it with a dry present, and a bird of prey. Memory is more urban, a peep show we narrate because narrative isn’t collaboration, but instruction. We ask someone to act inside our re-invention of an already invented space (pool, restaurant, hotel room). It’s pre-fab formalism that structures dialogue, unless you invite Socrates to the pool party and pepper him with questions. Better to keep photographers out of the Republic, too, for they know best how seriously we take our realism.

The essential deed of art determines the process whereby the form becomes a work. A sidewalk is constructed of forms, square by square laid down inside a carpenter’s frame. There’s the urge to write in concrete before it sets, to scrawl our name, the date, and whom we loved. To take a photograph of that is to make it present, cleanse it of its dates and names as narrative pegs, pretending there’s no time like the present. Each time I and Eucalyptus meet, I take something away. Image thief. What I have to offer is some form of company I can’t comprehend. Autistic children farming in a French film say nothing, but their eyes follow the saw, the hammer, the dough being fisted into shape. No one speaks to them. Is this silence a comfort? Our walks are visitations, accruing meaning through repetition, not words. Eucalyptus is cryptic. Every word must falsify; but look, these beings live around you.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Buber 4


Asked to take photos at different times of day, I walked out into gray rain this morning. I walk out into gray in the afternoon. I walk out again at evening into the gray. “If weather gets in the way, take photos of the weather,” I remember saying, but this assignment presumes different weathers. Whether gray or gray again, attend to its layers. Then attend to trees, their ribbons of wet bark like highways to an approximate gray heaven. Wrote “bard” for “bark,” though bark is what we need in this after-drought of flood watches. Who watches the flood still gets drenched by it. We don’t get to Eucalyptus today, the dog and I, though I imagine (as in remember) the blacks that turn to brown, the sap drops like jewels reflecting my red cap (when it’s not so gray). The relation to the You is unmediated. But gray is our medium, foretelling more. From this room I sense the tree in the park. We’re taught to avoid the present tense, but the tree feels present, tense. There's a light in my room, more white than gray.

Insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. To what end do I use the eucalyptus? Is use without use-value still use, or does it better approximate recycling, where objects have more value in their transfer than in their being? If I use the image I see in a photograph, what is its purpose, being different from value? Eggs are being rationed, a neighbor tells me, so expensive now they’re shipped to the mainland to be sold. Tell that to the chickens who roost beside McDonald’s; one laid an egg on the concrete pedestal to a sign, and I took that. The photo. But the tree feels present to me now, a sturdiness inside my gray day. The gum’s colors aren’t quite defeated by the gray, awaiting a camera’s lens to emerge, drip-paintings on a peeling canvas. Water drop drops off sap drop drops off bark off trunk off colors. How I negotiate a shift from narrow to wide-angle lens, from vertical to horizontal vision, has something to do with this tree. There’s more canvas, less detail. So I move closer, until the tip of my nose nearly rests on sticky wood, and turn the focus wheel. Focus is presence, an instant when the sap drop leaps out from its still yet moving frame. The rest forms a blur, but blurs are artistic! What is essential is lived in the present, objects in the past. While I do remember the tree (I took photos yesterday), I seem still to carry it with me. Not as a cross to bear, but as a kindness to be held, like the light that shifts when I pull a lever in Lightroom.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A launch for LILITH WALKS at DaShop (Kaimuki), Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2 pm




from Eucalyptus and I: Buber Variations

Buber 3

Eucalyptus and I exist outside of context; I am the eye of the eye of the camera that fixates on one drop of mahogany sap, casting its shadow like a lure. The text is not I, though I watch its black drip on a virtual white page. But everything else lives in his light. Not a sacred light, unless you nail the bronze label on, name to make it so. Tree is light insofar as it reflects; so am I, it seems, on this morning when there is varying light. Yesterday was mock-eternal, unvarying in gray rain. This morning colors distinguish themselves. It’s all in the contrast. One woman stands beside one tree (her dog on a red leash, tugging), taking photos for no reason she understands. If it’s to stop time, the eucalyptus is already pretty slow. If it’s to memorialize the moment, the moment insists it’s alive as flashback (technical word for memory). This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Is the tree then a form that I confront? Or is the form the photograph, operating through me at a second remove? A friend sends me this: “Anyhow, Daido Moriyama used to tell his students, ‘Til you've taken 10 rolls of film of a single building in one shooting session, I won't believe you even really *looked* at the building.’" 

 Seeing-machine, attending-machine, life support for eyes. 

 Where I place my frame frames me, though I’m not seen here (abhor the selfie!) I am that bit of grass from which the tree grows into the light of morning, or I am that patch of yellow-striped asphalt over which mountains show, bearing their clouds like cakes. Such work is creation, inventing is finding. Or a sub-creation folder, tucked inside the external hard drive, exported into Lightroom, then meddled with. Is the meddling invention? I can't reproduce color tones I don't remember, so I produce what I hope is close. Neighbor to “true,” not figment or fragment, however imagined. But this is getting quite grand, this lexicon of invention and creation; back in Mosquito Park (as we call it) all actual life is encounter. As I pull my camera away from Eucalyptus, some brown tar sticks to my dog’s red leash, feathered there. We take the tar away with us. Something of this moment sticks.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Buber 2


Martin Buber Variations: Two

After I said, “look at the tree,” a woman walking by termed it “magnificent.” Adjective as abstraction; it (neutral pronoun) is magnificent (blanket term). Tree covered in a multi-colored blanket of reds and greens and blacks and browns, but only where reading lenses meet distance. I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. This is not to say the tree is he or she or they, and thou seems an antiquated intimacy. If the relation is reciprocity then what does Eucalyptus get from me? Am I an it to it, who is not an It to me? I take photos of the tree, and note the verb. Appropriate is not appropriation, but something more decorous. In this decade I better know the self’s fragility as memory, self-contained upon a stage, a series of events to watch rather than to leap in like a river, seductive. You know you want to leap into what will destroy you, for you are American, so you focus on a tree behind you. Stolid, it doesn’t succumb to desire, though sometimes to wind, an uneven heating of the earth. Two eggs stand on the bottom of a bowl, a light shining down on them. Like two boxers before they dance. A brown egg kisses a white egg, and it’s not allegory, though we notice it. Only the cops wore masks, not against covid, but against our attention. They are not You, though they might be. They are not It, though they acted as such. The tree navigates its colors as if there were meanings to its palette. Red is not anger, but reflection. Green is not jealousy, but the grass around the tree. Brown is not mud, though the rain makes it appear so. Is rain the artist? Is wind? Am I, for taking the picture, downloading and fiddling with it? Is the picture then a Thou, related or unrelated to the tree? If a bot can tell a lie, can the eucalyptus? Or is your accident a form of truth that carries no ethical weight? My photograph becomes the tree’s memory. Yesterday there were streaks of sap; today there’s a gecko stuck in it; in three days, the gecko’s skeleton is held against the light, a jaw, a back, a tail entangled in the tar. The photographs are still, but it’s sequence that interests me, not the one-off, the beautiful image. Abstraction as dopamine trigger. It’s the silence between the shots (remove word from gun and give it to art) that gives us pause. Generous pause. What we don’t remember we see again as flat and new and still only as it sits on its canvas. I look at a tree photo, see two profiles of demons, one eye on each. Demon in foreground has a mouth shaped like a Valentine’s heart. I and Eucalyptus exchange our vows, before dog and I turn to trudge through the nets of other shadowed trees. That was not in the photograph.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Buber 1

 Martin Buber Variations: I and Eucalyptus

If there is no I as such, then who are you? I contemplate a tree. I am not such as the eucalyptus promises to be. But much as time enters a photograph as blur, the eucalyptus enters as tar, as sheets of bark separating from the trunk, as greens and browns and the reflected red of my cap. Jewel sap, sap as trap (leaves and geckos stuck), black when it’s dry, brown after the rain. Stained, solitary amid the monkeypods. Standing near the swimming pool’s chain link, an invasive of one. The monkey pods bend their branches, braiding shadows on green grass. The eucalyptus is tall and stiff, casting no shadow that is not the stickiness of tar. A rock at its base black with such, two small brown leaves its wide eyes. Whatever I might be stands in relation to whatever the eucalyptus is. My dog gets bored by these ritual visits, despite the scent. It is like an egg you think you’ve seen until you take its picture. Photographs trace a border between seen and unseen, real and surreal. I take them because I see something that is something else again when I download it. (This used to be called developing.) The tree’s undoing is development, almost a narrative, if we could hear it in words. If relation is reciprocity, then we're in relation, this self a blurred egg, this tree its peeling skin. One wonders if the tree feels pain at its self-loss, each day a newly detached wall of bark, smothered in black goo. I have come to think of self-loss as a mixed state, best described apart from loss and gain, terms capital imposes on us. The eucalyptus was planted to make money, but it’s failed, loitering on the lawn beside the community pool. Freed from the economy of planks and paper and wind screens, it claims an economy of meaning, which is itself a seesaw process. What the image creates sometimes is a place that sits between color and meaning, like the space between the blackened bark and the light color of the tree. Between the meaning and me is abstraction. It’s unconsidered, no artist to write its plot, or take its measurements. What to make of the tree’s art is mystery. Stories are how we solve mysteries (so often crimes) but these leave us puzzled. I can see a face in the movement of sap against the jagged bark, but I know it’s not a face. Is it accident? Does accident depend upon there having been an intention, or can we make an accident of what appears to us as accident already? I and eucalyptus fail to communicate, though we commune. After an arbitrary last photo, my dog and I return to the side walk. The side is of a road, but we’ve been on the other, the green side. My shoes are covered with seeds acquired earlier in higher grass. My dog carries the promise of a weedy afterlife on her gray haunches.

Monday, February 13, 2023


"His father gave her a Biblical name," the woman told me, who'd asked if I have any grandchildren. (It was one I didn't know.) The little girl had a bright purple shirt on, with a black bow tie to the side; she wore white sandals and colorful socks.) I said that Lilith is a Biblical name, except she's not in the Bible, and told her the story of the first woman who didn't require Adam's rib. Across the road, another older woman beckoned with her small dog. We crossed over. She thought I'd like the movie, "80 for Brady," about old women who like the quarterback. I watched the Super Bowl, I said, but no other football because of the brain injuries. She'd told her son he was not allowed to play football for just that reason, but he did. And now he's a psychiatrist, or is it psychologist? "There's a lot of demand for mental health services," she said, gesturing toward the parking lot. Her son had bought a car (not the cheapest one, mind you), which was parked outside their unit. I mentioned today's _Washington Post_ article about teenage girls and suicide. "They're trying to grow up too fast," she said. As Lilith and I started uphill, we turned to say good-bye. A large black BMW stood out in the parking lot of smaller Japanese cars.