I live by the codex

About a year ago I wrote to McSweeney’s and suggested that they reprint the woefully out of print and highly valued book, the Codex Seraphinianus, by Luigi Serafini.

codexSince it is colorful and odd and way too unavailable, I figured there was a chance McSweeney’s would be into reprinting it. Somehow I was under the impression that McSweeney’s occasionally resurrects forgotten tomes. Maybe they do. Or maybe those resources are devoted toward resurrecting forgotten sprawling-comedic novels written a hundred years ago. At any rate, they replied to me and said that at the moment they were more interested in publishing new work.

The university arts library where I was working about three years ago had a copy in their special collections. But for the first two years I worked there I had no knowledge of its existence (arts speccol was a densely-packed caged-off section — to illustrate the density: I’d been back there countless times, aimlessly browsing, and it wasn’t until a couple days before I quit that I noticed we carried the catalogue raisonne for Jean Dubuffet, one of my favorite artists). Then a friend, when filling out a personal survey of some sort on his blog, listed the Codex as his most prized book in his personal collection. So I searched and discovered a copy. The copy has never circulated, and looked untouched. It’s the first american edition, from 1983. I would often open it up and marvel at the art and look for patterns in the made-up language. The only copies I could find at the time were through ABEbooks, and they ranged between $150 and $400 (actually I think ebay would sometimes have one or two, at about the same price). I wanted a copy, and I wanted other people to have copies, and I didn’t want to have to search used bookstores for years, and spend too much of my time frequently visiting bookseller sites, thus the letter, etc.

Now there certainly will be some more people searching for this book. When I received the May issue of The Believer and saw a featured article about the Codex, my first thought, because I’m really self-centered, was that the person I had sent the letter to looked up the book, saw that it was great, and then put together the article that I should have considered writing. Of course, then I actually read the article and discovered he has a much more interesting and intimate relationship with the book than I, and that he can write much more about it than I possibly can. It’s an enjoyable article. I’m not sure I understand the author, Justin Taylor’s, reaction to Calvino’s insights about the book. It doesn’t seem to me that Calvino is spoiling a potentially unadulterated experience of the book by analyzing its import and significance, as Taylor notes. I think the nature of the Codex — it’s impenetrability in parts and openness for interpretation in other parts — keeps it safely always surprising and engaging.

As Shelley Jackson states in the article:

“It’s never going to completely yield to you in the sense of giving you insight into the artist’s intentions, so it kind of reverts you back on yourself and makes you notice what you’re noticing and notice the associations that you make. It’s a kind of springboard for your own creative musings.”

“You could keep formulating theories ad infinitum,” Jackson said, “without them resolving into anything, or without them reaching closure, at least, which is frankly the most interesting thing about it.”

I’m glad more people now know about the book. It’s unfortunate that more won’t be able to familiarize themselves with it. It’s still out of print, and the value, it seems, has gone up.

I’m additionally glad to say that rather than having to scour through all the different bookseller sites, there’s now a neat website called BooksPrice.com that aggregates listings from all the major online booksellers (and dvd, cd, games). It’s sort of the kayak.com of books. The site provides a simple way to check how many are available (and the site keeps tabs on previous searches, and has an rss search feed), and for how much. For the Codex: A decent amount. And all at crazy high prices. Boo. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my hands on a copy. And now there’s hardly an excuse for sellers not to be aware of its value.

There’s a contemporary artist whose style and mind reminds me a bit of Serafini. Theo Ellsworth, comicmaker and illustrator, is gifted at creating worlds composed of known objects, rules of physics, and animal behavior that have been deconstructed and then refashioned into new fantastical beasts and scenes. I imagine his worlds as populated by figures evolved from the flash-melding of one another in a dream or cosmic rift; flowing perfectly, sensible but absurd.

I really enjoy glimpsing worlds such as these. They are so well-actuated that sometimes it’s hard to imagine them as merely a few pictures on paper, and nothing more. I guess, though, that that’s not accurate; they are always more: definitely in the imaginations of the creators, and hopefully in the imaginations of the viewers.

For an animated depiction of an elaborate nature display from a fantastic other world, try to check out Mars and Beyond, the Disney short from the late ’60s.

Fitzgerald Contest Loser

I entered and lost another writing contest. And so, as I’ve done before, I’m now posting the exact short story I submitted.

The contest was administered in January by McSweeney’s (who, incidentally, are going through some financial troubles right now, and as a result are having a big sale), and the premise was to turn one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unrealized story ideas into a full short story. I’m completely familiar with his writing style (I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and that’s it), so I didn’t even try to conform to it.

The unrealized idea I used was “A tree, finding water, pierces roof and solves a mystery.” I think I did okay with it.

Here you go.

The Current of Rock Creek, by Ryan Gratzer

“Shove your butt in the car, girl,” Curtis croaked at his dog. Skylie was frozen just below the open door. Her back arched until her four feet nearly touched. She shook slightly and dirt powdered off her black fur. She looked at Curtis, and Curtis threw his cane over her head and through the open door. She didn’t budge, and so, his two hands free, he shoved her butt into the car.

Once inside, she was happy. She loves cars. She always forgets that. Especially when it’s time to get into one. The thought of entering cars is paralyzing, but riding in them is a blast.
Curtis’s car wasn’t an ordinary car in the standard sense. It was a truck. An old truck, tan and covered in dents. The license plate was bent forward, unreadable unless you were lying on the ground practically underneath the car. Or truck. The registration hadn’t been renewed since 1985. “I never drive it to town,” he once told me. “Then what do use to go to town?” I then asked. “I use the coupe.” I looked around. I didn’t see a coupe anywhere. I’d never seen him driving anything other than his beat-up truck. And I see him driving it every day.
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Hear here

Lately I have been composing and/or constructing ringtones. I’ve been making many of them. Sometimes, for days on end, one a day.

Ringtones, essentially, are just sounds clips of whatever that are between 10 and 30 seconds long. Thus, they are easy to make, and there are many possibilities.

I think that loud, songy ringtones are mostly annoying. And so I hope to avoid them. These tones are how I hope to achieve such avoidance. Some that are in the works are more conceptually than aurally geared. Some, for instance, I would recommend using with the phone on vibrate.

At the moment, you can make your ring a ping pong rally, a typewriter, phrases in morse code, and so on. Soon: rain on an umbrella, cars on a bridge, hoofs on cement. And more.

Most, but not all, newer phones support homemade tones; most support imports, and mp3 files. Some phones, like my Samsung T509, are restricted to proprietary files (actually, my phone can play mp3, and can even save them as alarm sounds, but it cannot save them as ringtones…). Luckily, programs are out there that allow one to convert files to many of the proprietary extensions. My Samsung uses .mmf files. So for each ringtone I make, I make them in mp3 and mmf (mmf files are of a significantly lower frequently, and so things are often lost in the conversion, but oh well).

Initially, I record most of the sounds onto my digital voice recorder; many of the sounds that interest me as potential ringtones are noises from the field. And then I edit the sounds in Audacity, WSD, Argeiphontes Lyre, Audion, and sometimes Garageband. Sometimes I use my analog synthesizer.

I’ve been refiguring the blue skies front page — working on a friendly stylesheet that I can use for whatever other pages I add to the site. It’s simple, elegant, probably ghetto. It works for what I want. And I imagine it works for what you want, also. But that’s because I imagine you as a perfect person who likes everything about me, who thinks that everything I create, no matter how clumsy or silly, is wonderful just because it came out of me.

So I’ve put together a ringtones page. There are seven tones on it. I have more to add, and more in the works. They are all free. They are just small sound files. You can do anything you want with them. If you like one, but would like it to be slightly different, you can tell me and I’ll change it. As of right now, I just sort of whip them up. Perfection is not something I seek at the moment of creation. And I’m always learning more about the recording and editing process.

Boxes of Mac

Here’s Natalie making awesome stuff. I stayed on their couch when I first moved here. I still really like their place. Sometimes I come over, and then they leave, and I writhe for a while in agony on the couch, or whatever it is I do, and then four or five hours later they come back home, and there I still am. I slept on their couch last night. Then in the morning I walked 40 blocks or so to work. It was lovely. There was this total Dark is Rising cloud — it filled up half the sky, and was steadily threatening to envelop the sun. It was great, though, because the other half of the sky, the not-doomcloud half, was completely clear and blue. And so it was like a partial eclipse of the stratosphere.

No one at work noticed that I was wearing the same clothes. Probably because I took off my tie. Not sure even why I wore a tie on Thursday (no one else does). I just felt like it. And I have some cool ties. No one commented on it, anyway.

Last evening was First Thursday, which means that every gallery, and some orthodontists and car salesmen, had openings. Jacob and I (and K and B, whose new album is reviewed in the latest New Yorker) took it in. The portland art center had two great exhibits — one of some Basil Wolverton drawings, and one called Alter Egos: Avatars and their Creators. I’d read about this second exhibit a few years ago (probably in the bbc article I just linked to), and since then have really wanted to see it. I came for Basil, but I stayed for Robbie Cooper! The images are large diptychs, with one half showing quite wonderful photographic portraits, and the other half a screen shot of the person’s main avatar from their favorite MMOG. That BBC article features a slideshow. But those slides don’t at all do it justice. In real life, the portraits are about three feet by three feet. The image that kicks off the slideshow is so great (and badass). I love how a guy in that situation can, by the power of immersive roleplaying games, overcome some of his limitations and interact with others in ways that he normally wouldn’t ever be able to.

But the very best thing I saw all evening was the Mac ‘N Cheese box cover collection. The collection nearly completely covered the walls of my favorite bookstore, Reading Frenzy. Dishwasher Pete was there, reading from his new book, a collection of writings from his zine about washing dishes in all 50 states. It’s his mac cover collection. He’s been collecting them for 20 years. It floored me when I walked in and saw it. I didn’t know that anything was going on there for first thursday. I just headed there after work to look at zines (and to buy Miranda July’s new book, which they didn’t have. so I had to walk half a block and buy it at Powell’s — read, in the latest New Yorker, about July talking about living in Portland and making her first film. This summer fiction issue looks great! It needs to arrive now.). There are no Kraft covers. But they are all that same size, and they’re all flat and laminated. There’s at least 50 or 60 different brands, with four or five different covers for each brand. Each brand hangs in ascending order, with the older designs up top, falling to newer ones below. I know it sounds silly, but these mac covers are graphically beautiful. And it’s so great to see so many of them. There are so many amusing congruencies between the boxes. So many tried themes and angles. It makes me want to get into graphic design.

Also, Reading Frenzy, and the adjoining Independent Publishing Resource Center had a mac and cheese bake off to accompany the reading and collection. I ate some good mac.

I’m going there tomorrow to take some photos of the walls. I’m also going to the rose parade. It’s the 70th anniversary. Portland is the City of Roses. So this is a big deal.

For posterity

I had a thing back in 1999 where I decided, for the purpose of posterity, to collect and hold onto seemingly important cultural records. The end result is that I still possess a lot of magazines that feature Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, or Monica Lewinsky on the covers. Such as

(We recently found this full length mirror on the street, and we took it in (I was taking picture of my shoes and figured I’d pose with the magazine.).)

When I moved into my new place, I placed two Monica covers — one from the New Yorker, one from Time — on the front entrance table.

And what happens shortly after that? Monica Lewinsky moves to Portland!
The Mercury’s Blogtown PDX has been reporting on rumors and sitings. Oops, I didn’t write that sentence well enough to support all these links. So: And sitings.

Think she’d be flattered by my collection?