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The Artist Sleepover

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I would love to invite Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Frank O'Hara, Wallace Stevens and Oscar Wilde to my house for a sleepover. I rather suspect that Jane and Wallace might be disposed to decline the invitation, but I would wheedle and flatter, tell Jane how much I admire the navy and promise Wallace I'd buy all my insurance from him, until their resistence would deliquesce like a snowman and its mind of winter thrust suddenly into the orderly heat of Key West. Before my guests arrived, I would bake a batch of my special chocolate chocolate chip cookies, because those cookies always garner me praise, admiration and gratitude. I'd stock up on different flavors of Ben & Jerry's, because after all, the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. I'd buy a case of Bass Pale Ale, as well of plenty of tequila, triple sec, limes, salt and ice, because who wouldn't like to see Emily Dickinson completely shitfaced? We'd lay our sleeping bags out on the living room floor and play Truth or Dare.

Actually we'd play Truth or Truth. Like I'm going to dare Frank O'Hara to make out with Oscar Wilde? I mean, yeah, I'd love to watch that, but I'd bet my entire poetry collection it would happen on its own. I'm far more interested in what they can tell me.

A Necessary Ingredient for Enjoying Art

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I love Grendel by John Gardner so much I wish I'd written it.

It is, of course, a retelling of the Beowulf saga from the point of view of the monster who wrecks Hrothgar's meadhall and feasts on his men.

I love it because it's a fiercely intellectual book, concerned with truth and ultimate meaning. I love it because it has so many fabulous lines. I love it because the dragon Grendel visits is one of the best characters ever created in all of literature.

I love it because plot is never the point: if you've read Beowulf, you know how Grendel ends: Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off, and Grendel goes off to bleed to death in the woods. So you don't read it for what happens, you read it for how it happens, and why what happens matters.

I get annoyed when people refuse to know anything beyond the initial set-up of a book they want to read or a movie they want to watch. "Don't tell me! Don't ruin the end for me!" they shout, covering their ears, as if ignorance is a necessary ingredient for enjoying art. If I feel I'm getting too caught up in wondering what will happen next to appreciate things in a text like musicality of language and construction of scene, I'll read the end so I can just dispense with the suspense and concentrate on enjoying the pages before the end, rather than racing through to the end.

Art That Fits in Envelopes

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This post is dedicated to my new friend Tammy, whom I met through Friendster (yes, you really can meet interesting people that way) thanks to the suggestion of a mutual friend (SBJ, to be specific), who thought we'd get along. We've been corresponding for less than three months, and she has already written me several of the best letters I have ever received in my entire life.

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I think one reason I like blogging so much is that it's the closest I can come to writing letters all the time. The letter is one of my favorite art forms and one I think I'm particularly good at. I have always placed a high premium on good mail, and while I've learned to appreciate the virtues of email--its immediacy, for one thing--still, in many ways it's a sorry substitute for a real, honest-to-goodness letter. Most people send such short, inconsequential notes over email, and I still miss opening my mailbox, finding an envelope bearing the return address of some cool person, and knowing that inside are a couple of pages that will entertain and delight me.

Email has also hurt another of my favorite art forms, the postcard. What a great thing to find in your mailbox: a few really witty statements on the back of an interesting photo! I love getting and sending postcards, and used to devote a lot of time and energy to building up an impressive postcard collection. But these days I have only one friend who sends me postcards: John C, who not only sends postcards, but sends them with postmarks from Thailand and South Africa and Austria and so forth. (I am chagrined to admit I send him, at best, one postcard for every four or five he sends me, and mine have BORING postmarks.)

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