REVIEW: Kelly Link Reading

We all filed into the Espresso Bar, lattes in hand. We found our seats and were not quite sure what kind of yarn Kelly Link was going to spin for us tonight. All we knew was that we were in the same room with Kelly Link, and that was good enough.

After an exuberant introduction by U-M lecturer Raymond McDaniel, Kelly Link took to the podium. She read a story entitled “I Can See Right Through You” (which you can read right here) from her newest story collection, “Get in Trouble.” The story involves ouija boards, mystery, jealousy, demon-lovers, and aged actors famous for playing a vampire a long while back. Although I can appreciate Link’s innovative narrative techniques, such as her disjointed timeline and her spelled-out ouija letterings, I couldn’t get invested in the story. Perhaps I wasn’t in the demon-lover kind of mood, or perhaps it was the way that Link read the story, her fast, monotone voice sliding by good punchlines and over key plot points. The story just moved by too fast and I couldn’t fully appreciate it.

What really got me excited about being there was the Q&A afterwards. Kelly’s anecdotes about her writing process or about little bits of Kelly Link Life Factoids had us all in stitches. For example, one audience member asked about the influence of art in Link’s work. Link told us a funny story about a time she was in Arizona (I think…don’t quote me!) at a tiny hole-in-the-wall art museum/shop. On the wall were these ugly paintings of a forest and naked people whose feet were so screwed up, a stream washed over them so the viewer couldn’t see the artist’s ineptitude (these are Kelly’s words. I couldn’t judge since I’m probably equally horrible at drawing feet!) And yet, the painting spoke to her and she had to have it. Now it hangs proudly on the wall in her writing space, which happens to be the dining room table. Every time they have guests over for dinner, Link realizes that the guests are forced to face this ugly painting. She laughed, and we laughed at the silliness of it all. The silliness that sometimes we are all drawn to something strange that speaks to us for some unknown reason. Life really can be unexplainable sometimes!

I really love any chance that I get to hear writers talk about their lives not as writers. It’s so easy to read this person’s name attached to books and awards, and we begin to think of them not so much as a person, but as just a name, a writing machine with no life but to produce literature and be successful. Putting a person on such a pedestal like that can be intimidating, for both upcoming writers and the successful writer herself! Kelly Link shed the layers at the Literati that night, and showed us that deep down, she is just like all of us. She loves the Vampire Diaries, she hates the fact that she HAS to write a novel (but still will anyway!), she gives in to buying obscene pictures for no particular reason, she has to write and write and revise and cut and edit, just like everyone else. Sometimes we all need a reminder that everyone is human, even the successful ones; a reminder that everyone needs to “get in trouble” once in a while.

REVIEW: Ruth Ozeki Reading

“Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.” ~ the first lines of Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being.”

After listening to Ruth Ozeki last Wednesday night, I fully understand what it means to be a time being. You’re a time being. I’m a time being. We all are time beings and we share this wonderful life for the time being. But, first, let me give you some background.

Ruth Ozeki is the author of the novel which was chosen as the 2015 Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Community Read. I had not read the book, but had heard spectacular reviews and knew that she was not only an author, but a Zen Buddhist priest. Since I’m currently writing a story myself about Buddhism, I was interested to hear if she would touch on that aspect of her life.

There on the stage of the Rackham Auditorium, Ozeki stepped out and spent five minutes, thanking so sincerely the committee members for choosing her book. She said that she couldn’t imagine being in their position, having to read so many incredible books and knowing that a choice must alternately be made. Her gratefulness was admirable and continued throughout the talk. She then talked about public libraries and their “magical spell,” which many of the audience members, including myself, had found themselves as little ones. Although the topic itself did not have relevance to her novel, she delved into her own past job as a library page, where she would keep a notepad on her trolley and write down story ideas as she combed the shelves. These personal stories humanized her and made her seem like a real person, because her stories were my stories. I think it is easy to put successful people on an untouchable pedestal, where we think, “No way can I ever get where they are.” But really, they came from where we are. And it’s stories like these that give us hope.

Next, Ozeki transformed into a philosophical physicist and began a lecture on time. She taught us one of her favorite Japanese words, “uji.” Uji can both be translated as ‘time being’ and ‘being time.’ She pointed out that this duality creates instability. Depending on the emphasis, you could say “time being” which connotes temporariness. But if you say, “time being,” it is like you are speaking of a being of time, such as an alien or a living entity. I fell in love with this image of “time beings.” For the rest of the talk, Ozeki called us, her audience, “time beings,” which was both lovely and made me think closer about what that actually means.

After explaining a bit about the main character Nao (a linguistic pun on the word “now”) and a humble confession that this final novel is the sixth version of her original draft, Ozeki recognized that novels themselves are time-beings. When one writes a draft, random factors of the time being influence the prose effortlessly. For example, she had written her novel in a pre-Fukashima Disaster time. She realized that the events and emotions of her novel were no longer relevant in a post-Fukashima time. As a writer who lives in Revisionland most of my days, it comforted me to hear that Ozeki had to wrestle with Time and redo her story to get back in step.

The last moments of her talk was actually silent. She led the audience on a meditation, a moment of self-awareness to put us all back in step with time. We too often feel like we are chasing time. We are quick to materialize time as an object. We’re always behind schedule, ahead of time, physically on time, spending it, keeping it, wasting it. This silent meditation let us just be in time with no worries about what to do with it, other than to exist. For me, time itself felt like it slowed down. Ozeki suggested that before sitting down to work, you should sit in silent peace for about ten minutes. Release any thoughts and be completely present.

Even though I hadn’t read the book (it’s on my list for Spring Break!), Ozeki made her talk accessible to everyone. She taught us to be more appreciative of life, of time, and to simply be the lovely time being who we are.

REVIEW: Charlie Chaplin Short Films

Have you ever shut off the volume on the TV because you were tired of listening to commercials, only to find that the show has sneakily come back on? Now you watch in silence and people are dancing about on the screen, mouths are moving, dogs are chasing postmen, and you don’t know a single thing that they are saying. But that’s the fun! You start creating your own dialogue and suddenly, a tense chase scene turns comic with every pun you fling about the room.

Silent films increase creativity, I’m sure of it! I definitely felt like my mind was more active than usual when I sat in the magical Michigan Theater watching a silent black and white Charlie Chaplin tumble and twirl his famous little bowler hat on the big screen.

Charlie Chaplin made the majority of his vaudeville films from 1920-1940, and is known widely as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. He wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and wrote the music for most of his films. He was a do-it-all kind of guy. His films were silly, inventive, full of plot twists and long-drawn out humorous scenes (think of those Family Guy moments when Brian and Stewie go back and forth for five minutes), just the kind of entertaining distraction people living through the Depression and World War 2 needed. But all of his films mostly serve as a response and encouragement to the condition of the people. His protagonists are mainly poor and are treated badly, but remain upbeat and kind, which was also just what I needed on a dreary cold winter day!

A very talented man on the vintage Barton Organ sat down and began to play Chaplin’s own accompanying score as the lights went down. At first, it was very strange to see the actors’ mouths moving without knowing what they were saying. It was like I was watching a poorly-timed Anime movie, but even worse, an Anime movie that had forgotten to put the sound in altogether! There were hardly any slides of “dialogue” – where the films cuts away from the action and includes a line of dialogue directing the audience how to interpret a certain scene. Without many clues, we were forced to pay attention to the mood invoked by the organ music. At times of suspense, it rushed along with anticipation. In dreamy moments or love scenes, the organ might play a variation of the Wedding Song. It’s amazing how the brain soon adapts to missing elements of everyday life (talking), and normalizes a new way of enjoying life.

For that hour and a half, I didn’t miss talking at all. In fact, I was quite pleased to create my own story to match what I saw before me. I watched the other movie-goers and wondered if their stories were similar to mine. But I realized that it didn’t matter. And anyways, I wouldn’t dare break the silence to ask them! Here we were sharing a public space, but experiencing very different movies in our head. It was the first time it hit me: that films are intrinsically private journeys. Private journeys that Charlie Chaplin believed the world should go on together.

PREVIEW: Kelly Link Reading

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Welcome to the magical world of Kelly Link. Fantastically full of fantasy, light horror, and magical realism, Link writes short stories about haunted convenience stores, apocalyptic poker parties, zombies, marriage, superheroes, and witches in a way that is supremely unique, wacky, and wonderful. She has an original voice that you can hear LIVE this Friday at the Literati Bookstore!

What: Kelly Link Reading

Where: Literati Bookstore

When: Friday, February 20 at 7 pm

How Much?: Free!

P.S. If you have never read her stories I highly recommend them, and you can read one of the stories from her new collection, “Get in Trouble,” right over here!


PREVIEW: Ruth Ozeki Reading

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Every year, a book is selected for the “Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads” program as a chance to promote literacy and civic dialogue in the community. This year, the council has chosen Ruth Ozeki’s emotionally touching novel, “A Tale for the Time Being.” The story intertwines the lives of Nao, a suicidal Japanese teenager, and a novelist in Canada who finds Nao’s diary washed up on shore.

This Wednesday, the novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest herself will be speaking at Rackham Auditorium! Even if you haven’t read the novel, please still attend if you have any interest in Japanese culture or writing in general! As a writer myself, I find it always very comforting to hear successful authors tell me about their bumps in their road along the way.

What: Ruth Ozeki Reading and Book Signing

When: Wednesday, Feb 11 at 7-9 pm

Where: Rackham Auditorium

How Much?: Free!

Come celebrate the 2015 Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Read and be a part of your literary community!


REVIEW: Witch Exhibition in the UMMA

Got a minute? Gather a few of your friends together and then tell them to each draw a picture of a unicorn. Chances are they will all include a horse with a mane and a horn sticking out of its forehead – plus or minus a few stars and rainbows. Next, tell your friends to draw a picture of a witch. Suddenly, we have a whole spectrum of possibilities. Is she old or young? Wrinkly skin with craggily nose and warts? Is she wearing a hat? Is she a peasant in Salem, Massachusetts? Does she ride a broom or stay on the ground with her cat and her cauldron? Does she look like Hermione or Luna? Really, the only constant is that she’s a she. It is quite remarkable that the witch, like the unicorn, is an imaginative construct. And yet, we have no collective idea of what she looks like!

I’m in the course here at U-M called “The History of Witchcraft.” One of our assignments was to visit the U-M Museum of Art and check out their limited-time collection of “Witch” art. The small collection of only 15 pieces is located down the stairs in the basement of the modern Frankel Family Wing. The collection mostly displays printed etchings by Francisco de Goya. These etchings are a part of his larger work, “Los Caprichos,” which mostly serve as a satirical medium for Goya’s criticism of 18th century Spanish society. (This video by the San Jose Museum of Art describes wonderfully Goya’s Caprices in more detail. You can even click on each individual etchings to learn more about the hidden meanings.)

I can’t show pictures here because of copyright issues; all the more reason to go see them yourself! But I can describe to you a few that really caught my attention: either because they were so disturbing or because they simply confounded me. The collection ranges from Goya’s Early Modern prints to 20th-century abstract drawings and photography. One of my absolute favorites was “The Witch with the Comb” by Paul Klee. I loved how it was not obvious that the drawing was of a witch.

To me, the woman immediately struck me as an abstract 1920’s flapper rendition of the Queen of Hearts. Her hair was cut in an asymmetrical bob, she wore a shawl and jewelry, and her cocktail dress even had a fringe trim. She definitely looked like an upper-class woman, or at least, like a middle-class woman attempting to look like an aristocrat. Her face was stern with a straight across eyebrow and a pinched little chin. The strange thing about the woman was that her arms were drawn to look like arrows, pointing downward (“towards HELL!” I joked). Why did Paul Klee choose to disfigure this noble woman? The lack of hands dehumanized her, while drawing your attention down to the bottom of the picture. Now you notice her shoes – prototypical ‘witch’ shoes with a curled tip.  Is this woman secretly a witch? Klee reminds us again of the idea that anyone can be a witch. All you have to do is call her one, which he has done in the title. We read in class that many witches could transform themselves into more attractive, humanistic women. I guess even witches can make mistakes sometimes and leave their identities exposed to those who notice the small details.

You could easily spend an hour staring at these 15 pieces, which seem to have more significance when brought together in one glass case. You can contrast and compare, noticing witchy details that are marked in this print and not that. Why did he choose to obscure her leg here? What is he trying to hide? Take a friend and ask each other questions. Start with a simple: what is going on here? I promise you – that will be enough to keep your mind active.

I believe that UMMA will keep this Witch Exhibition up for another week or two. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see how real artists have attempted to portray witches in their work.  Maybe your witch drawing will be more similar than you ever expected.