Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Simple Matter of Anatomy & Spacecraft

It was a hip bone's connected to the thigh bone kind of week. I started by watching
"Factory Girl," which led to watching "Sylvia," followed by re-reading The Bell Jar, and some of Sylvia Plath's poetry. From there I moved on to some Dylan and Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians music, and ended the week with a bits of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. Now, if all that sounds a little depressing, it could have been, but both the movies were wonderfully acted, especially Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia, and the literature is so rich that it was easy to move past the story of troubled souls to an appreciation of the art that grew out of their personal struggles. What's there to say about Dylan...a classic under any circumstance, and Edie Brickell is just plain fun!

That's Edie Sedwick with Andy Warhol. She's the subject of "Factory Girl." Edie was an east coast debutante with an enormous trust fund, a Harvard degree, and a promising career as a model or actress. Then she met Andy Warhol. Within weeks, the gamine Edie became his muse, and drifted freely though New York's avant-guard art scene. She was a presence at Warhol's "factory" where he oversaw the mass production of art, and produced alternative films...many starring Edie. Bob Dylan wrote "Just Like a Woman" about her, and "Little Miss S." by Edie Brickell (Paul Simon's wife) is also about Sedwick. As these scenarios often go, the promise of a future was snuffed by an undetermined cause when she was only 28. Sedwick herself may not have been a artist, but her spirit inspired many.

As long as I was in this particular zone, I took a look at Sylvia Plath. Unlike Sedwick, Plath was focused on her craft, she was driven to be a poet. To that end, she sought out like minds who would understand the ethos and pathos that consume a poet's life. Plath's first poem was published when she was 8, and she never looked back. She was a Fulbright Scholar, who was forever overshadowed by the work and notoriety of her husband, Ted Hughes. Both Ariel and The Bell Jar are semi-autobiographical works. They chronicle her struggles with societal pressures, and her own personal demons. In many ways, both books mirror her battles with what most experts now agree was bi-polar disorder. She moves easily from anger to wit. The works are gentle and brutal at the same time. Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters is a collection of poems written after Plath's suicide, reflecting on his life with and without Sylvia.

The question of the connection between creativity and mental illness has long been discussed and studied by psychologists. A 2005 clinical study out of Stanford School of Medicine showed that a sampling of children rated as high risk for bi-polar disorder also scored high on creativity index tests. Despite her troubles, I never saw a picture of Sylvia Plath in which she wasn't smiling. Here is one of my favorites, taken with her children Frieda and Nicholas.

So, if you're up for a some artsy and literary exploration, both movies are quite well done, although heavy and troubling. Plath's poetry is well worth the time. Read it as women's issue poetry, read it to get insight into a life too short, or read it simply to relish in the lyrical sound of her words, and the provactive nuances of her thoughts.

Next week - on to lighter thoughts. I'm reading No, I Don't Want to Join a Book Club...and The Namesake is next on the heap.


Last week wasn't all gloom and doom reading, I am happy to say. That kooky character on the left if fellow Heart-A-Rama girl, Lynna, posing proudly after being named Miss Space Debris at Manitowoc's first Sputnikfest. Kudos to the orgnaizers, who obviously put in many overtime, and volunteer hours to make this wing-ding happen. There was something for everyone, and if you didn't go, well, too bad for you! Are there items to iron out for next year? Of course, but for a first year event, this couldn't have been better. For the nay-sayers, who think this may not have hit the right mark, I will remind you that Heart-A-Rama began as a grass roots event thirty-nine years ago. Only two nights of shows were held that first year, and people literally had to be begged to attend. Look at the frenzy HAR causes now! Sputnikfest will gain momentum. Watching it grow and evolve will be half the fun!