ArtsWatch Weekly: Framing Wordstock, and other tall tales

Hitting the books with Portland's literary festival, First Thursday, gamesmanship on the Oregon Trail, coyote on a fence

“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order,” the movie director Jean-Luc Godard famously said, and that’s as good a prompt as any to remind you that Wordstock, Portland’s annual orgy of all things literary, is coming up Saturday at the Portland Art Museum and other easily walkable venues along the South Park Blocks.

Take a deep breath. The list of writers taking part, local and far-flung, is long, and this is just a few of them: Diana Abu-Jaber, Sherman Alexie, Nicholson Baker, April Baer, David Biespiel, Carrie Brownstein, Peter Ames Carlin, Liz Crain, Monica Drake, Brian Doyle, Zach Dundas, Renée Ahdieh, Rabih Alameddine, Rivka Galchen, Yaa Gyasi, Karen Karbo, Shawn Levy, Gigi Little, Richard Russo, Sallie Tisdale, Colson Whitehead. It’s a veritable library of contemporary writing in the flesh.

Hangin' in the balcony at last year's Wordstock. Photo: Angie Jabine

Hangin’ in the balcony at last year’s Wordstock. Photo: Angie Jabine

Ah, but what if your story doesn’t have an end? I thought of that yesterday, flying home to Portland from the East Coast, when I boarded a connecting flight in Chicago at just about the time the sixth game of the World Series was beginning. The Cubs, of course, were in the thing, for the first time since 1945, and the Cleveland club (itself a longtime also-ran) was threatening to walk away with the rubies. Spirits were high on the plane as Chicagoans, many of them rabid fans, walked on and began to fill the cabin: It was a full flight, with no empty seats.

Late in the game, as it were, a pleasant-looking woman worked her way down the aisle wearing a bold Cleveland jersey and baseball cap, and it was just a bit shocking, like watching Daniel enter the lions’ den, or John Oliver showing up at a Green Party rally to give Jill Stein a hug. Where would Ms. Cleveland sit, I wondered as she headed toward the back of the plane. Who would sit next to her? I imagined a sea of empty seats in her vicinity until at last, reluctantly, with no place else to go, the latecomers would have to start filling in, and someone – I could only hope a non-Chicagoan catching a connecting flight – would be forced to sit beside her. One of the last people to enter the plane was another pleasant-looking woman, this one proudly wearing a Cubs jersey and cap. Would fate, I wondered, hook them up?

I never found out. The Cubs won the game, forcing a game seven, and no overt fights erupted on the plane, and eventually we landed and decamped. Where did the Cleveland fan come from, where was she going, how did she fare on her flight among the enemy? I can’t say. My story has no end. I could make one up, or edit the tale to create a sense of closure (“Every edit is a lie,” Godard also famously, and truthfully, said). But I simply do not know.

All in the framing: Salvador Dali, "Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds," 1936. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation

All in the framing: Salvador Dali, “Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds,” 1936. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation

Coincidentally, on the plane I was reading Defining Edges: A New Look at Picture Frames, W.H. Bailey’s fascinating look at the philosophies and artisanship of selecting and creating frames for pictures. (It all might have started, he posits, with the view outside the cave that our deep ancestors saw from the dark safe recesses of their troglodytic homes: the cave entry created a frame – an edit – of the outside reality.)

A story, then, is an edit, and somehow a completion, even though by nature it’s fragmentary. We talk about the universe of a story, but it’s a limited, invented universe, complete only within its own made-up rules, framed to keep the outside world out and the inside world from tumbling into anarchy – and yet also, somehow, offering a doorway between the greater and smaller realities of story and “real” life.

See you at Wordstock, where we can all attach our own frames and create our own tales out of the raw stuff of it. And tonight, Go Cubs. Or Go Cleveland. You can frame that one any way you want.



Mary Josephson, "A Beacon of Who We Are," 2016, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. Russo Lee Gallery.

Mary Josephson, “A Beacon of Who We Are,” 2016, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. Russo Lee Gallery.

SPEAKING OF FRAMES AND PICTURES, it’s the beginning of November, and that means this Thursday is First Thursday in art galleries around and about Portland, with a whole new run of shows. Lots and lots to choose from. A few I have my eye on: Why I Kept a Light Burning, new works by veteran Portland artist Mary Josephson, at Russo Lee Gallery; Greg Wilbur’s metalworks exhibit Hammered at Waterstone; a spot of myth in Leaving Troy, new work by Barbara Black and Angela Passalacqua at Blackfish. To go with the big Andy Warhol show at the Portland Art Museum, Augen is opening Warhol in New York: Pop, Punk, New Wave & the Counter Culture, with work by Warhol and fellow scene-makers Jim Dine, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist: party on. And PAM continues the city’s immersion in the pop/high culture of the recent past with its exhibit through January 29 Corita Kent: Spiritual Pop.



AND SPEAKING OF WRITING AND WRITERS, a heartfelt farewell to Natalie Babbitt, the wonderful writer and illustrator who died Monday at age 84 from lung cancer. Babbitt had whimsy and imagination and also a deep devotion to the telling of hard truths, a skill that was rendered perhaps most lastingly in her lovely children’s novel Tuck Everlasting. Sam Roberts has her obituary in the New York Times.

Also in The Times, the erudite and usually wryly genteel Dwight Garner gets thoroughly exasperated with performance artist Marina Abramovic, who first came to attention many years ago by stabbing a knife repeatedly between her outstretched fingers and repeatedly missing, thus carving a bloody trail to fame. Reviewing the “naked masochism and pretension” in her memoir Walk Through Walls, Garner essentially rips her a new one, which Abramovic might have done herself if she’d thought of it first. Cubs fans on the right. Cleveland fans on the left. Enter the fray at your own risk.





Sarah Baskin as Now Jane and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane in Bekah Brunstetter's "The Oregon Trail" through Nov. 20 at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

Sarah Baskin as Now Jane and Alex Leigh Ramirez as Then Jane in Bekah Brunstetter’s “The Oregon Trail” through Nov. 20 at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

The Oregon Trail. The premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s newest at Portland Center Stage is based on the travails of the pioneers, and also on a popular computer game from a few years back that cast players into simulations of those heady days. Either way, dysentery is not a good thing. A lively topic, a quirky approach.

Coyote on a Fence. At Post5, Paul Angelo directs Bruce Graham’s play about Death Row, mercy, repentance, and the workings of the justice system.

One Man, Two Guvnors. Don Alder directs a promising cast in Lakewood Theatre’s production of Richard Bean’s amusing adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s also amusing 1740s farce The Servant of Two Masters. Bean resets the action in the Swinging ’60s in the resort town of Brighton, England.



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