Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On the Street

Bill Cunningham is a street photographer. He rides a bicycle, wears a blue jacket and takes pictures of people on the street. Other people’s clothing are his absolute raison d’etre. He lives a life of extreme asceticism. Never cooks. Hardly eats. Goes to church on Sunday. Doesn’t particularly care for money. Has few personal items and even fewer personal friends. He attends all the fanciest parties in New York. But he doesn’t party, not one bit. He works instead. Fastidiously chronicling what people wear through his pictures. He has devoted his entirety to searching for beauty. Bill is a fashion monk.

His photo page in the Times is a veritable quilt of the town’s quirk. He shoots pictures of people who are uniquely dressed and then finds other people who are wearing something similar. He follows patterns of color, texture, cut and curiosity. At it since the ‘60’s, Bill captures that quality of New York that makes ordinary people instantly boring. Older ladies in large black rimmed round glasses, couches turned into suits, hats, astonishing egos, pelts, fuzz, feathers, impossible heels. Its magical realism, but its real.

We saw a documentary about his life tonight, its called “Bill Cunningham’s New York”. It was seriously heartwarming and inspiring. It made me wish more people were like Bill.

But before we saw the film, Joe saw him. A few months ago. On the street. Riding his bicycle. Joe approached him and asked him for a picture for his wife, who is me. And so, Bill let Joe take a video of him. You can hear the smiles that ensued between my darling and the city’s humble fashion darling, Bill.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Form Follows Gumption

Writing is deeply personal, even when its not. Lately, I have been trying to write a scientific research proposal. The goal is to convey that my intended project is downright wonderful, without actually saying that. I am learning to hate this genre of writing, and not unrelated to that, I am terrible at it. With each turn of objective-sounding phrase, feelings of inadequacy bloom inside of me.

When I was 14, my English teacher told me that my writing, in a word, sucked. From that, I will never recover. Especially since she repeatedly told me that I looked like Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. And although it wasn’t true, I was flattered. Then she gave me a “D” on my Romeo and Juliet paper. Partly, it was because I didn’t follow the rules. I learned that physical beauty is irrelevant to writing, a fact for which I am increasingly thankful for as I age. But I also learned that I didn’t even know the formal rules of writing.

Then, I was told to stay after class one day in an art history course I took in college. It was a large lecture (in a room where Pratt let the stray cats roam free, so my attention to the course material was periodically interrupted by the onset of allergy anxiety as these no-doubt dirty felines took a haughty seat beside me) and I had never had a face-to-face conversation with the professor before. She told me that my paper, on the topic of Arshile Gorky, was exceptional. I was glowing with abstract expressionistic pride. I just stood in front of the painting for hours and I wrote down exactly what I felt. There were no rules and I was obeying all of them.

So which is it, are there basic tenets to all good writing, or do expectations and genere’s toy with form enough to allow a grammatical ignoramus to excel in one realm and fail in another?

Well, no matter how utterly inadmissible it is that I dont know these rigid rules of writing, I dont really care about them. I just want to write. And I want to write clearly and without pretense. I am not sure this is possible in the case of a grant proposal and I know its not possible in the case of Shakespeare. But I think it boils down to bullshit versus non-bullshit. If you believe what you are writing, then its not bullshit, and you can be frank to the point of blinding clarity. But, to write what you truly believe—whether its on Verona or vermilion—is a tremendous risk, because there is a chance that someone might read it, just as you have, this.