Odd Saint: Shannon Plumb

Dear CF,

I’m nominating the weird and hilarious Shannon Plumb, also known as a present-day female Buster Keaton. Or, as I like to think of her, the love-child of Janis Joplin, Amy Sedaris and Charlie Chaplin. She’s probably best known for her series “The Park,” which was shown on four huge screens in Central Park, none of which come close to the (literally) plaintive brilliance of “Rattles and Cherries,” which you can and should watch below at 23:19. (Most of her films are less than five minutes long.)

She focuses (as she puts it) on “the imperfections of people,” and I’d say most of her characters fit into your concept of the “nu woman.”

The video below is from a talk she gave at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. I’m embedding it because it includes a collection of several silent Super 8 films she makes—by herself, for the most part. Scary, what this woman can do with a tripod.

I’m indexing them below, with special mentions for Shalmont Field (at 19:20) and THURSDAY, St. Patrick’s Day (at 31:12) which does a terrifyingly hilarious number on the performance of being boy and girl. “Discus” and “Hurdles” show women doing hurdles or throwing the discus in sexy strapless dresses or terrible wigs, with all the inelegance you might imagine that might produce. “Stewardess” is Howard Hughes’ worst nightmare.

Partial Index:

15:10 Stewardess

16:55 Nasal Cleanse

19:20 Shalmont Field

23:10  Rattles and Cherries

27:33 Discus

31:12 THURSDAY: St. Patrick’s Day

35:35 maximus

37:40 Madison and East 24th

41:25 “It’s fine,” she whispered.

Waiting to Be Milked

Of the quiet pleasures work sometimes brings me, the loudest is hearing a familiar but different and ever-surprising English. It drives home how forceful our cliches really are—and how young.

A Ph.D loses whatever modicum of relevance it has if you can’t stop and yawp! once in a while without trying to make an argument. So, in a grown-up version of Show and Tell, I’m bringing you my seventeenth-century worms in a sandwich bag and making you smell them. Today! Two great dead pieces of language from the Anonymous Life of Milton (possibly written by Cyriack Skinner). Two leaky-lady gems from a time when the act of writing hadn’t been Hemingwayed and Mailered into penishood.

Exhibit A: Milton’s grandfather disinherited his father when he was caught with a Bible in his room (Granddad was a Catholic, and Dad’s reading indicated a dangerous Protestant tendency). Milton’s dad was raised by a relative, a scrivener, and made a decent living for his family so that Milton had access to a good education:

Thus his eldest Son had his institution to learning both under public, and private Master; under whom, through the pregnancy of his Parts, and his indefatigable industry (sitting up constantly at his Study till midnight) he profited exceedingly.

Exhibit B: A famous one, but still worth rehashing. Skinner writes that Milton’s later life, when he was blind and past his political best, had a routine:

He rendered his Studies and various Works more easy and pleasant by allotting them their several portions of the day. Of these the time friendly to the Muses fell to his Poetry; And he waking early (as is the use of temperate men) had commonly a good Stock of Verses ready against his Amanuensis came; which if it happened to be later than ordinary, he would complain, saying he wanted to be milkd.

Those italics aren’t mine, by the way. They’re straight from the manuscript. They indicate a direct quote.

Isn’t it something, to imagine Milton waiting in the morning, full of verses he’d composed in the night, begging to be milked? Hard to imagine a more apt metaphor, eh?

Yawp! and moo!


PS: Just had to include this shout-out to Gaudy Night: in the 1694 Life of Milton, his nephew Edward Phillips talks about Milton’s crew of “young Sparks” (i.e., bros), with whom “he would so far make bold with his Body, as now and then to keep a Gawdy day.” (Gawdy day=One of up to four days per year of celebrations at the universities.) Harriet Vane would be tickled.

Lady Times

Dearest Millicent,

Sorry to have been away so long.  I have spent the last few days grumbling to and fro, sometimes happy and productive, other times head-achy and dedicated to the art of pajama-wearing.  Part of the reason here is that it is that glorious time of the month.  I think I get angry every time I am dealing with my body’s revolutions, because of the fact that an entire half of the world’s population doesn’t have a clue what it feels like to have copious amounts of fluid (in fact, one of the visually scariest fluids we have (people are known to faint at the sight of it)) coming of out of your body, and that the entire event is supposed to be covertly handled.  If my elbow was spontaneously bleeding, I wouldn’t be expected to run and put on long sleeves, insist that every thing was very fine, and that in fact, tennis sounds wonderful after all.

I have heard women talk about how their partners are absolutely on good terms with their blood, and even mine insists that he is in no way bothered by it.  But still, when you wake up in the middle of the night and think you are leaking, it is a personal crisis akin to wetting the bed.  Witnesses do not help.  And, while I can get fussy about cramps and the craziness that we have to function normally when there is a migraine in our abdomen going on, I think the real absurdity is managing such a flow.  Today it strikes me as hilarious that I can have a heavy flow– –me as a little bio-hazardous fountain– –and I am supposed to contain all of that and not announce to the world what an awesome job of systems management is going on–no leaks, no grimacing, and all the proper acts of cleanliness and subterfuge taken.  I’m not saying ladies need to have responsibilities taken away from them when in the throes of menstruation.  I’m saying that we are all cold-blooded super spies, Les Femmes Nikitas, who can handle our shit. And that maybe I would just like a “Good job!” or a “You really took care of all that stuff coming out of your body! Way to go!” every once in awhile.

Ah, the joys of being reproductively mature,

How are you?