The Musings of a Boho Girl

bōˈhēmēən (noun) 1. a free spirit ; 2. a writer; 3. an explorer of the Avant-Garde.

Ali Smith Discussion: Public Library and other stories


Her book is everywhere including The NT Bookshop

I wasn’t planning on writing a post this early. In fact I’m still overjoyed that I met Ali Smith. She’s brilliant and really lovely too. I almost didn’t make it to the event. At 17:00 I was stuck in a cab on Jamaica Road telling my driver that I rearranged my entire trip just to come to this event. He becomes quite determined and begins backing up and turns left then the driver takes an alternate route that leads us off Jamaica Road. I’m not familiar with South East London, but we traveled down a number of different streets just to go around the traffic jam.

When we finally reach the venue, my fare is £59 and he tells me to just forget it, to go inside and get my book signed. He’s the kindest cab driver in the world. So I went in late, but it was a fantastic evening. I would do it all over again even if there were only ten minutes of discussion, although it was much longer. Smith discussed her new collection of stories and who influenced them. There were readings from her book. If you’re local, try to get to King’s College London: Inventing the modern novel on November 9, 2015 (18:30-20:00). Ali Smith is thoughtful and engaging with her audience. I’d love to be able to hear how modernist literature has influenced her work, such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. She’s truly remarkable. I can’t wait to start reading Public Library and other stories.

Happy Birthday to Sylvia Plath


Fever 103

Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel,
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element. They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin. The sin.

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.

Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern—

My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

I think I am going up,
I think I may rise —
The beads of hot metal fly, and I love, I

Am a pure acetylene
Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean!
Not you, nor him

Nor him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats) —
To Paradise.

Listen to Plath read Fever 103 here.

A Review: Please Like Me

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I often say those words to my cat, but in this case it’s also the title of a fantastic Australian comedy starring Josh Thomas. Usually I find comedy dramas to be a letdown, but Please Like Me is just really well done. In the first episode, Josh’s girlfriend breaks up with him because he’s gay; his mother attempts suicide and he’s forced to make some difficult decisions. Josh’s world is dark and hilarious. Please Like Me is not absurd, it’s honest and funny, which is rare for most comedies. The first season consists of six episodes so I binge-watched the entire season while baking a flourless chocolate torte.

Josh is endearing, directionless, and a little frustrating. His relationships are sweet and somewhat awkward. Josh’s first love interest, Geoffrey is my favorite; he’s lovely. Geoffrey deals with Rose, Josh’s mentally ill mum and her quirky ways. He is present for many of Josh’s milestones. The writing is clever with realistic dialogue; the sadness, exasperation, and humor make this comedy one of my favourites. Josh Thomas’ writing team includes his real life and onscreen best friend, Thomas Ward.

In the second season, Josh is finding his way and dealing with unrequited love. There are more episodes too: ten. Josh’s world is a little larger, he has another housemate in addition to Tom: Patrick. The dynamic between them is different. We see Alan (Josh’s father) and Mae (Alan’s girlfriend) a bit more. Their relationship is amusing, they come from vastly different cultures and there’s an age difference, which is cleverly portrayed.

Please Like Me ended at an interesting moment and I’m looking forward to the third season. It premieres Friday, October 16, 2015 on Pivot. I’m a little jealous that we don’t have smart comedies anymore. Seasons 1 and 2 are on Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon Prime. It’s available everywhere. So watch with me, I promise you’ll fall for John (Josh’s adorable dog).

Out of Print Books

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These objects are nearly impossible to find, and if found, they are almost always financially out of reach for the average customer; out of print books hinder numerous possibilities. Discovering an artist’s work is a journey, one wants to start at the beginning and follow his or her entire body of work; seeing how the artist has evolved is an essential part of understanding him or her. When a photographer’s first book is out of print, his or her audience is left with a fragmented history of their work.

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Peter Hujar’s Portraits in Life and Death was published in 1976, that’s well before his current audience was born. Consider how Hujar’s photography influenced the field, his stark black and white portraits admired for their intimate style. Portraits in Life and Death is the only book Hujar was alive to oversee, we can see each image in the order that he intended. Isn’t that how we should see art? Shouldn’t we have the chance to look at a time that doesn’t belong to us and see the world through the artist’s eyes?

In this case, the photographer has not been forgotten; in fact Peter Hujar’s Night is being exhibited in Cologne, Germany right now. My friend travelled from Amsterdam to see it. There are retrospectives in New York, San Francisco and across Europe. Hujar’s work is revered all over the world. Portraits in Life and Death is in demand, so why not reprint it? Seeing Hujar’s work is possible but visiting galleries in New York City and San Francisco isn’t a possibility for everyone, some of his audience will have to be content with his books. Shouldn’t those people have an opportunity to trace the haunting themes of time and death that permeate through Hujar’s work?

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Arts education is severely underfunded, especially in the public education system and most students are only taught an overview, they are left to explore artists on their own time. Photographers like Peter Hujar and Diane Arbus are routinely overlooked in curriculums; those students eager to learn more may not have access to Hujar’s book. Portraits in Life and Death is one book that would provide a more comprehensive examination of Hujar’s photography.

I learned of Hujar as a teenager and then in greater depth at university while studying cityscapes photography. They told a complicated story…a story of a city decaying… a disappearing landscape. Maybe I saw traces of sadness, but I couldn’t fully see Hujar. I wanted to. I’ve been chasing Hujar’s ghost for years, always wanting to see more of his work. This search led me to The Stedelijk in Amsterdam just to see Divine from Portraits in Life and Death.

Time and place: those ephemeral qualities that Peter Hujar captures in his work should reach audiences in the smallest corners of the world. One way to make that possible is keeping his books in print. It’s my hope that Stephen Koch considers reprinting Hujar’s first book. Portraits in Life and Death could find a second home with a publisher. Almost four decades have passed and there are at least two generations who never experienced Hujar’s first book. Shouldn’t we have a chance to see the world as Hujar saw it?

Five Quotes from Ali Smith’s Hotel World

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‘Remember you must live.
Remember you most love.
Remainder you mist leaf.’

I ended up attending a book club again. Maybe it was the cake or the opportunity to discuss Ali Smith’s Hotel World that led me to the basement of an independent bookshop, but there I was holding my copy of Hotel World and eyeing a Whole Foods cake. This novel is one of my favourites, Hotel World is brilliant: five sections about five women, one of whom is dead, and it’s set at the same global hotel branch. Smith skillfully traces the characters’ paths and where they intersect. The final section is a stream-of-consciousness from Clare (Sara Wilby’s younger sister) which is reminiscent of Woolf or Joyce. Here are five quotes from Hotel World:

‘Else wonders where her head would go, if she could take it off and hold it in her hands and then fling it up and set it flying, leaving her chest and her stomach and her legs and her waving-goodbye arms, her head soaring by itself up past the huddles of freezing starlings. The sky would open. The roof of it would come off. She would be so careful up there. She would avoid aeroplanes.’ 67
‘It is much easier to picture her from the photographs in the papers and TV than to try to remember. The photographs in the papers and on TV seem to have wiped Lise’s memory of the real Sara Wilby even cleaner.’ 110

‘Time is notoriously deceptive. Everybody knows this (though it is one of the easier things to forget).’ 103

‘At the bottom of the shaft, colourless in the dark, there was a shoe and a crumpled uniform, both still warm, both going cold. There were three or four coins, maybe more. There was a broken clock. Its plastic shell was shattered and its face was in bits.’ 154

‘& since I will always know off by heart I will not forget the sound of you breathing in the dark & since there was the night when I was eleven when they played the old song about the long and winding road on the radio & for some reason I don’t know why it made me frightened that the earth was full of dead people even the earth round the flowers outside in the garden though I didn’t say anything I was in bed you were in the other bed you said what’s wrong are you scared you knew I was without me having to say anything’ 219

You can find Hotel World here.

The Act of Remembering

‘Time Remembered is Grief Forgotten’
– Algernon Charles Swinburne

I have faint memories of the 1980s. I remember my clumsy attempts at roller skating and can vaguely recall seeing Ronald Reagan on television; perhaps the latter is an invented memory. The 1980s marked the beginning of uncertainty. I wasn’t part of the fear, loss, and tragedy that occurred; in fact I remained largely unaware of its cause. There was a silence around death, no one wanted to say how they died and some doctors chose to list underlining symptoms rather than the actual cause of death. I spent six months writing an elegy to the 1980s, the years that I was blissfully unaware and too young to understand. There were protests. People were fighting for their lives. I want to remember the protests but I can’t; those faces are ghosts now. Victims to a disease that the government refused to acknowledge. All of the documentaries never prepared me for the profound loss that began in the early 1980s, for the first time I couldn’t fill the blank pages with words, traces of death lingered in my notebook, and then there were my fragmented memories…memories that defined my story. There was only one question to answer.

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Time Remembered: My 5 Loves for August

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Looking back always stirs nostalgia. Several years ago in August, I was at a market looking around when I came across a beautiful cameo, Leda and the Swan. My haggling skills are lacking so I ended up walking away from the vintage pendant. Sometimes I regret it, but was it worth the €350? This month my five obsessions are from the past.

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Favourite Quotes from Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks

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Language and landscape have been inextricably linked for centuries, can you imagine Wuthering Heights without Bronte describing the Yorkshire moors? The setting captures the emotions of Bronte’s characters. While I was reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, I took notes and wrote down my favourite quotes. Landmarks is filled with fascinating portraits of authors that influenced Macfarlane’s writing. His high praise for Nan Shepherd led me to The Living Mountain. This book is about language…words lost or words on the brink of extinction. The glossary at the end of each chapter reminds us how important vocabulary is to Macfarlane. So I thought instead of a traditional review, I would share Macfarlane’s most striking quotes.

On Roger Deakin’s relationship with water: ’Water was to him a visionary substance. It was homoeopathic, it was cheering, it was beautiful in its flex and flow – and it was lensatic. Prepositions matter again here: we might say that Roger Deakin thought not just about water, he thought in water or with water.’

On Nan Shepherd: ’Shepherd is fierce see-er, then, and like many fierce see-ers, she is also a part-time mystic, for whom intense empiricism is the first step to immanence.’

On Peter Davidson’s poetry and northern landscape: ‘I think of Davidson’s what-ifs as versions of the duct: strange spaces in which time’s claim are stilled – and through which one might see so far into the future that it becomes the past.’
On reading John Muir: ’Reading Muir, I feel invulnerable. He gives me seven-league boots, lets me climb high mountains in a single paragraph. Rockfall, blizzard and avalanche cannot harm him.’
On Richard Jefferies: ‘Sunlight was the substance Jefferies associated most with life; dust the substance that most often triggered his dismayed materialism and his thoughts of death.’

‘Like the ‘white granular powder’ that gathers lethally upon a thriving landscape in the opening pages of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Jefferies’ dust contaminates both body and soul…’

You can find the book here.

When I Tweeted Dylan Farrow was a Victim

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Social media can be a strange place. Two days ago I tweeted Judd Apatow criticizes Whoopi Goldberg for supporting Bill Cosby but he’s an avid Woody Allen fan. It was an innocent observation. There was nothing provocative about the tweet. I wasn’t defending Cosby or condemning Allen, I was just pointing out the hypocrisy of it all. The next night I received an onslaught of tweets from one man, who began insulting and mocking me. He sent at least forty tweets in 30 minutes. The effects were dizzying. I didn’t respond to the stream of insults but they kept coming. Those insults weren’t just limited to me, the man believed Allen could not be guilty because there was only one accuser so he began mocking Dylan Farrow. Nothing he tweeted made sense, which may explain why he deleted every single one of his tweets hours after he sent them.

After I tweeted Dylan Farrow was a victim, the individual became more aggressive; he replied Farrow was just one ‘kid’ and Cosby raped forty women. He minimised Farrow and her experience because she was only one person then he mocked me for believing she mattered. For most of the night he continued to verbally abuse me and refused to stop until I blocked him. It was my strangest Twitter experience. I recounted the story to a friend, who explained women are more likely to suffer verbal abuse on social media networks.

I should have blocked him straightaway but that would have meant he had won. The idea that a stranger can read an opinion and hurl insults at another person isn’t fair. We should be able to disagree and move on. Now strangers insist on engaging in contentious arguments, but I suppose that’s what trolls do. They go online and scroll through tweets for the sole purpose of harassing someone. I don’t understand how an individual can be so miserable that their only joy is verbally abusing others. It’s incomprehensible. Maybe my mistake was trying to make sense of his motives.

There’s no positive here. I imagine he’s on Twitter verbally abusing another young woman right now, stealthy deleting tweets once he’s been blocked and starting again. Perhaps you’ve met him. In person he seems like a normal individual but online he acts out his misplaced aggression by demeaning women. No one can stop him.

July: My Five Obsessions

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Happy July, it’s the month of barbecues, strawberries & cream, and summer cocktails (that was June too). There are so many things that I love right now, it was hard to narrow it down to just five. I couldn’t resist the urge to list the two Smiths that I adore. If I had one ounce of Kanye West’s confidence and Ali or Zadie Smith’s talent, I’d be sorted for life.

1. Hotel World by Ali Smith. This 2002 book is being released with a new cover of David Hockney’s ‘Views of Hotel Well II’. Like everything Ali Smith writes, Hotel World is brilliant. I read it nearly a decade ago and can still remember Smith’s vivid prose. Hotel World was shortlisted for The Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction, it’s well worth a read. Check out the synopsis here. It’s as imaginative as How to be Both, which everyone should be reading, by the way. Keep an eye out for this Hamish Hamilton title.

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2. BBC Proms. There’s one thing I love about summer…the Proms. Going to The Proms is one of the things I miss most. This summer classical music concerts was one of my favourite events. So if you’re based in England or planning a trip to London, do try to make a trip to the Royal Albert Hall for the Proms. I lived near Royal Albert Hall and managed to go several times a week. Yes, I was addicted. The last night of the Proms is particularly special, the crowd sings Rule Britannia.

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3. Zadie Smith. Several friends are just discovering how talented she is. They’re becoming addicts and I don’t blame them, she’s an extraordinary writer. Smith’s recent short story, ‘Escape From New York’, is in the New Yorker Fiction Issue (2015). It’s quite good, Zadie Smith re-imagines Marlon Brando, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor leaving New York City during 9/11. I love how Smith plays with this urban myth. You can find the story here.

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4.  Wimbledon. I’ve been waking up insanely early to watch the matches. It’s always great fun as long as my favourite players are winning. Things are looking good for Team Andy Murray and Serena Williams.

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5. Lush Cosmetics. I fell in love with this store and I’m glad they have stores throughout the United States, although the Regent Street store will always have my heart. I can’t imagine life without their bath bombs and melts. Go here and prepare to fall in love.