Thursday, December 29, 2011

Waukesha, WI

It's a biz (Foxie's Hair Salon) but it still counts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Here's my heart

A week for finding treasures: Giorgio Moroder's restored version of the silent film "Metropolis," originally released in 1927, available again. Morodor released his version in 1984, with a different, contemporary soundtrack. I first saw it with a bunch of my high school friends in someone's dark rec room and have been looking for it since. When I got my first DVD player I ordered the film online and was disappointed to discover it wasn't the one with the Pat Benatar soundtrack. (Also features Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy, et al.) Like I told my (one) film student: It's weird, but it works. This is why I think it does: The 1980s and the 1920s have stylistic and economic parallels. Art deco design, big rhinestone jewelry, etc. The overmade actors in the silent Metropolis resemble 80s glam rockers. Their exaggerated expressions wouldn't seem out of place in the early years of MTV, and, in fact, this is what the film plays like -- an extended music video, complete with Devo-like workmen on "the machine." The story is a commentary on the decadence of the rich and exploitation of the working class (cough, cough). It's Working Girl meets Mr. Roboto. The crazy inventor looks a little like Judd Nelson. I'd go on, but I'm gonna go watch it again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Drove up north this week to look for snowy owls, a rarity here. Sometimes they show up, though, depending on what's happening with the lemming population in the Arctic (either not enough or too many, depending on who you talk to). Indeed they were hanging out, these treasure birds with haunting yellow eyes. Sometimes they roost in my dreams. Never saw one in the wild, until Sunday. They're elusive and my little Fuji didn't have the zoom to pull them in close enough. But this is frigid Green Bay, which maybe for the owls looks a little like home.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Butt (erfly) Effect

I found this non-fiction piece while looking for a story to share with my friends over at Black Coffee Fiction.... thought I'd share, finally. (I wrote it, planned to look at it again later and edit, and then forgot about it...) Anyway, it was written last year during the AWP conference in Denver. Been planning my trip to next year's conference in Chicago so I guess it's still somewhat timely. So it goes:

I didn’t notice until I leaned over to pull something out of my backpack and there it was, squeezing out of the seat in front of me. We’re not talking about a coin slot. This was beyond clever euphemism, it was beyond plumber jokes, it was simply a surprisingly lengthy and hairy butt crack. Whatever the latest conference speaker was saying was gone, lost in the dark caverns of this untamed crevasse.

I wondered how far down in there my pen would stick if I let it drop, or how quickly he would notice, and whether the pen would catch on the back of the seat if he stood up suddenly, and what kind of damage that would do. Couldn’t he feel the air down there? Couldn’t he feel his boxer shorts – and yes, indeed, they were boxers, red and blue plaid, to be exact – resting at some point far below the threshold of good taste? What did you do in a situation like this? It wasn’t like seeing someone with spinach caught in their teeth. What do you say: Excuse me, sir, but your pants seem to be elastically challenged? Excuse me, sir, but I didn’t realize it was already time for the quarter moon. Excuse me, sir, it’s not that your barn door is open, but I’m afraid that someone has knocked out the back wall with a bulldozer.

While gazing at the floor to avoid the view in front of me I noticed under the seat, on the floor, looking lost – a cell phone. Was it his? It would make sense that this slippery tool had lost its grip inside uberhorizontal pockets. The phone lit up briefly, possibly a text message from his mother reminding him to please pull up his pants, there were ladies present. Would he notice his phone missing? Should I tap him on his shoulder and ask him if the phone was his? If he bent to reach for it I feared we’d not only have a quarter moon but a full one. If I bent to reach for it I might be sucked into the cavern. My proximity to the void was already unbearable and possibly unhealthy.
Why was it my week to sit next to the freaks? I’d already had one guy who spent an entire session running his fingers through his thin hair and flicking his fingers in my direction. I’m wearing black, you dolt, I wanted to say, your dandruff will show. At another session a young girl came late, asked me to repeat everything the speaker just said, and, not hearing, asked me to repeat it again, and then reverted to reading my notebook and copying everything down.

And now Mr. Butt Crack.

I really needed to get out of there but couldn’t do so without causing a major disturbance. In the absence of flight I needed – what? Altoids? Lip gloss? With gymnastic care, I carefully lifted my backpack to my lap, rooted around for I don’t know what. 

My fingers bumped against my digital camera. I glanced again at the crack. Back at my camera. 

Tempting, to document this monstrosity to prove to my friends that I was there and that it was as bad as I said. A better idea, I decided, would be to pick up the phone from the floor and use his own phone to take a picture of his own butt crack. Wouldn’t that be a stitch? And then program the phone to show the crack picture every time he got a call from his girlfriend. But really I only like to think that I’m that clever and mean and of course wouldn’t do it, and didn’t even think of what my friends later suggested, which was to send the photo to everyone in his phone book. And of course I worried that he’d get up and leave without his phone, with or without the crack picture, and then I got annoyed and debated whether or not it was really my responsibility to tell him his phone was on the floor just because I happened to see it, and why did I always have to be the frigging hero. Especially when I had to endure his paragon of human ugliness, this blunt symbol of vulnerability and filth and juvenile humor, and was distracted from the conference for which I had paid and traveled and suffered insomnia, and now this image will be my memory instead of whatever stunning morsels of insight and advice that I had just missed and might very well have made the difference between my own success and failure. Thank you, Mr. Butt Crack, for destroying my future.

In the end (so to speak) the man eventually pulled up his pants and found his phone, leaving the room happily with no notion of the drama he’d induced. It wasn’t exactly like an insect flapping its wings and changing the course of history, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Has The Future Arrived?

... Title of a message in my Inbox this morning, courtesy of Netflix, checking to see whether I've received the indy drama "The Future." (I don't know, Netflix, I suppose it arrives every moment...I can't answer these kinds of questions before I've had my coffee.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The late show

Friday, November 18, 2011

For the Twihards

Undoubtedly by this morning lots of devoted twihards have already seen some midnight showing of "Breaking Dawn: Part I." Completed my MFA program at a small college on the Olympic Peninsula, home of the world's most popular vampires and werewolves. Last year I took a graduation trip up the coast with a good friend, who dragged me (yep, that's my story) to the real-life town depicted in the books. The savvy business and community leaders in Forks have capitalized on the series' popularity, so much so that the remote small town has become something of a Twilight vortex. A Twilight Twilight Zone. (Seriously, it's a little weird. There are only so many Edward cutouts a person can handle.) The Quileute Nation down the road in La Push is also in on the fun but has taken a decidedly more low-key approach -- a sign that reads "No Vampires Beyond This Point," a coffee hut named after Jacob, and, on one convenience store cash register -- two bags of "werewolf hair," one marked "Jacob" and the other "Jacob's Cousin." The beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. (Below, top photo). But it's still an odd phenomenon, this worldwide mass pilgrimage to these tiny towns -- what do they hope to see, really? But I guess people want to feel closer to something that's touched them somehow. I get that. The woods and the bottom two photographs are on Makah tribal land north of La Push at Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point of the contiguous United States.

...I went there because of a post card.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Real life angry bird

Terrible picture, but the bird deserves a shout-out for his sheer determination. Spent a lovely night in a B&B farm cottage in southwestern Wisconsin ... and a puzzling morning trying to find the source of a weird banging noise, which turned out to be this cardinal trying to bust through a window. When he saw me through the glass he looked at me like, "You're taking my picture? Open the #*&ing window!" I wrote a thank you email to the B&B and said I hoped the bird had given up by now. They said he'd been trying to break in for the past five years. Kind of sad and inspiring at the same time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

So it begins...


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A place to pray for miracles

A sunny post for a rainy day. A few weeks ago at the stunning  Holy Hill, a historical basilica that stands -- well, on a hill. Overlooks the landscape like Switzerland. Love the guy at the bottom left on the cell phone: "Hello, God? Are you there? It's me, Stanley." Note the circular windows in the tower... no glass, no nothing... just a staircase with a railing. Holy vertigo, batman.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Night stop

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Big trees fall

From Cathedral Pines, a stand of original hemlock and white/red pines in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Felt like Little California. This what Wisconsin must've looked like a hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago, a patch of what was. Occupying my mind now: the twin trees that fell at Sequoia National Forest. I haven't been there but visited the redwoods along the coast, staring up the length of their trunks, trying to imagine how long they'd stood. Older than Jesus, some of them, a reference that's often employed but impossible to grasp. Practically immortal, supernatural. I tried to imagine standing there for thousands of years, quiet. Do they sense it, when one falls, after they've stood there so long together? Do they feel the vibration and know? What does it feel like to fall to the earth from that height, expanse, depth? What is it like when forever stops?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reflecting pool

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Someone's prince charming?

We'll never know...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Fog cover on Saturday morning. Not great for driving but it makes everything softer, quieter.
The photo below is from last year; a similar morning with changing light -- as the sun rises everything is yellow until the fog eventually burns off. Demise of a fallen cloud.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Demon derby

From Saturday night's "Monsterz Brawl". Last time I was there they tried to recruit me and my friends. I totally would do it but I have this thing about activities that could get my nose broken...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fire dancer

 At Bay View's Pumpkin Pavilion last weekend... witchy, pagan fire dancers under an autumn tree ... I'm a little weirded out by the purple light in the scary dancer-immolation photo. It showed up in a few others. Probably a delayed effect from the moving fire and slow shutter speed. Or not...

Pumpkin pavilion

 From last weekend's Pumpkin Pavilion in Humboldt Park, Milwaukee. Residents of Bay View (the coolest, hippest neighborhood) carved hundreds of jack-o-lanterns for the event, which also included fire dancers (photos to come).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some things stay the same

Love the motion in this shot. Everything is in motion – my youngest cousin (swinging, yes, but also beginning the rapid change from childhood to adulthood). The season, the day. I was losing sun quickly, and I was losing battery power. Sometimes my camera gives me some interesting gifts when it’s running out of juice. Though things are in flux in this picture there are elements that remain the same: The cabin (in northern Wisconsin) has been there a long time – part of my aunt’s family history. The tree has been there a long time, as has the river directly behind me. The seasons will change – that’s a constant – and children will grow and maybe retain or regain their sense of joy in the moment. The memories will remain.


A few changes. New look.  Maybe a new focus. After all, Purple Houses has been my "journal of creative evolution" -- and, of course, evolution is a fundamental component of creativity. I preach to my beginning bloggers that regular posting is important -- clearly, I'm not following my own advice, and clearly, that's an indicator that something needs to change.

So what's the deal? I'm still writing and working on getting published and balancing the things I want to do with the things I have to do, blah blah blah. Not much else to say about that.

But I'm taking a whole lot of pictures. Maybe, I thought, I have more to say visually right now. I think the stories will come with the images...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Northwoods drive

Not sure why it took me so long to take a drive up north ... and the weird vortex of weather circling over Wisconsin this weekend gave it the perfect rainy autumn gloom. It was a weekend of reunions -- with friends and with a place that I often longed to leave but also loved to explore on endless drives. I found stories in its dirt roads and expansive woods, cleared my head under the muted cover of impenetrable clouds.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Steamy without the romance

Been trapped inside the house almost like winter -- stepping outside is like breathing soup. Glasses and camera lenses fog up immediately. Plus we've had a deer fly infestation for the past month -- they swarm, land in our hair and bite in the time it takes to walk from the house to the car. Both annoying and a danger -- they carry Tularemia, caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, a potential bioterrorism agent, according to PubMed Health.


Monday, August 1, 2011

No more bull$%@#

Wow, time flies. Mostly there's not much to report -- and not much writing done. Back to juggling and piecing together an income, including by unloading some stuff on Ebay. As a child I amassed a collection of Breyer horses -- inexplicably among the sleek and stately equine models, one anatomically correct Hereford bull. Maybe I liked his benign expression. Anyway, he was the first to go. I received a lovely follow-up note from his buyer, who says he is the biggest bull in her herd. Better than the inside of a dusty box. I'm keeping my favorites but so far have made $60 on three models.

And teaching. And editing. And writing for a magazine. And applying for jobs. I'm determined to keep one day a week completely open for writing; that's worked once in the past three weeks. At least I got ahead during my stay at the writers' colonies...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Do it for Johnny, man

Was kept up late by Rob Lowe’s memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, a fascinating read full of celestial elbow-rubbing and incredible encounters, particularly engrossing for a film-loving Gen-Xer who grew up watching the Brat Pack. A favorite moment: Rob Lowe going over to his girlfriend Jennifer’s house to watch his first after-school special (“Schoolboy Father”) and ending up watching with his girlfriend’s father – Cary Grant.

And reading about The Outsiders – a film that launched the careers of pretty much everyone who starred, including a pre-Risky Business Tom Cruise and pre-Karate Kid Ralph Macchio. Lowe (who played the dashing Sodapop Curtis) was bitterly disappointed when his character’s key scenes were cut from the opening and close of the film; they were later restored in a new edition of the film. He was right – they made a good movie better and kept it truer to S.E. Hinton’s novel. Lowe’s book and rewatching The Outsiders resulted in a snowball of nostalgia and I’ve been rolling with it, absorbed in the new edition of the film and its special features (“Watch The Outsiders with the Greasers and a Soc!”). My Netflix list is crammed with 80s films – an ongoing obsession that seemed to kickstart while I was on retreat in Arkansas, diving into YA mode. I’m currently perusing the Matt Dillon repertoire, including a revisit of My Bodyguard, which also features a heartbreakingly adorable Joan Cusack.

Trying to remember when and under what circumstances I first read The Outsiders – I’m guessing Junior High English class. I’ve got a worn copy somewhere in my storage unit in California and I’m feeling lonely for it now. The film was pivotal and so was the book, offering a new definition of teen novels by venturing into territory usually reserved for gritty adult dramas. The book ends in hopefulness but not happiness. I’ve also rarely encountered another book that is so full of love – between the brothers, between Ponyboy and Johnny, between Johnny and Dallas – and that’s what made it so compelling for me. Rob Lowe got that about the story, about his character, and wrote in his book about developing those relationships on- and off-screen. It’s fascinating to read Lowe’s story from the perspective of a young man on the precipice of his future, something he shared with the characters of The Outsiders. Makes me wonder where they would have ended up, what twists and foibles they would have encountered. Lowe said in the film commentary that he asked S.E. Hinton what became of Sodapop, and she responded that Sodapop went to Vietnam and died there. The answer depressed me for the rest of the night. But it makes sense, and characters often dictate to authors what happens to them, not the other way around. I like that Lowe cared enough to ask, and that he shared his story about this transitional and significant moment in film history.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Demon seeking representation

A friend shared this great link -- one of those things I wish I'd written myself, all about the frustrations of trying to get published.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Appleton, WI

Sunday, May 22, 2011


The combination of isolation and oceanscape at Centrum was a creative powderkeg -- about 100 pages written on a new novel. It's a total mess of course but now I have something solid to shape. A sandcastle to knock down, rebuild.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sun halo: Friday, May 13, 2011

The large photos are unaltered; smaller ones, played with color.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Space and time

My writing room at Centrum.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The road

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The care and feeding of writers in captivity*

*or Why Writers Colonies Are So Important

Once in a while I have a hard time explaining what the big deal is about writers colonies, why we need a special place to go to write. As one writer said one night during dinner at Dairy Hollow -- People say, can't you just sit down and write?

Sometimes. No. Maybe.

And then your mom calls or the dog needs walking or someone has Just One Question. And then what might have been an idea dissipates into nothing, or a character stops talking, and work is lost.

Writer's colonies give writers the psychic space and time needed to let things happen creatively. It's a mysterious process, no doubt. When people talk to writers they want to know where ideas come from. You can talk about sources of inspiration and how to develop characters and plot, but really, we don't know either. We just know it happens, and it often happens in the quiet. We get a lot of work done by staring out the window. In a way, writing is like trying to read the future -- to hear something that isn't there and hasn't happened yet. Quiet space to listen is vital.

At the same time, we need a certain kind of noise. We're shameless eavesdroppers, we writers. When we get out of our element, we hear different kinds of conversations. We meet new people and ask questions, too, and are given the gift of information. Each new piece is a seed.

We get visual noise, too, the details of somewhere else. We hear noises that aren't there, and if we listen hard enough sometimes we hear the voices of ghosts.

There's also this: We need the company of other writers, to be with others who understand the peculiar vulnerabilities, insecurities and joys of being a writer. To know sometimes we share artistic quirks. Isn't it funny, another writer said one night, how we meet these great people during dinner and then we all go back to our rooms to be alone? Yes. And we get that.

Writer's colonies get that, too. One afternoon I visited a big cat refuge near Eureka Springs, watching the biologists feeding pieces of chicken to the tigers and lions. One night at dinner another writer and I found a whole chicken waiting for us on the table.

Just feed us and let us do our thing. They know.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why road trips are so great: A photo montage

Sunset photos: Just ahead of the storm system that produced the St. Louis tornado. Lightning all around me until I reached the hotel, barely beat the rain. Power went out in my room briefly when the storms hit.
Purple Martin Inn: A random stop in Griggsville, Ill. which claims to be the purple martin capital of the world. The birds had just migrated back to town in the previous week.
Kitty photo and crepes: A visit to a new friend's home.
Zombie mannequin: Outside a junk shop in Arkansas.
Mark Twain Hotel: Hannibal, Mo, -- boyhood home of the famous author.
Butterfly/feet: A blue morpho at the Butterfly Palace in Branson, Mo.