Vegetable Towers

eating is eating / my modern house / a tower / thrusters proviso / nubs-on-top / cactus waves a hand / vegetable motion / la maison dieu / Boys Town down / museum by default / architecture links / new poems / new tsarlag / l'ego apology

I keep like 5 legos on the kitchen table at all times. Originally it was a quick solution to make a phone holder so I can watch a YouTube and eat, but I don't do that any more-- now when I eat I just eat. The legos are still around though, just to mess with in idle moments.

Mostly I take them apart and then put them back together as "a house". Because I'm using so few pieces, 1 brick = 1 story, and I'm allowed to imagine that any open area is enclosed by glass a la Philip Johnson. A big part of this process is imagining what living in the house would be like-- where's the entrance, where's my bedroom, where's the cool little zone where I hang out.

a pretty typical example

Oftentimes these are multi-purpose structures that include studio space, a gallery zone, maybe a gift shop? Usually there's lots of open space on the first floor, a totally enclosed second floor (made of the one green 8x8 square), and a rooftop zone with it's own little cabin. I tend to think of the cabin as my bedroom / writing room. If the cabin is flush with the edge of the second story I imagine that the building overlooks a field and on summer evenings we watch a movie projectd against the wall. I always imagine renting out some of the rooms, that's a key aspect of my utopia. I take the house apart and rebuild without compunction, I have no illusions about there being a perfect or ideal state.

in phone mode

Most of my other "I own a building" fantasies involve a pretty elaborate structure, or no structure at all, just details-- a fire pole, a soda machine, a drums room, a staircase with a burgundy carpet, a sub-basement of infinite used bicycles. It's fun to operate in a concrete and minimalist mode, and paste on the details later.


Philip Johnson's Glass House

In contrast to the house is the tower. I think the origin of the tower is that Tom came over for clam night (a yearly Tom and I summertime event) and he was playing with the house bricks so I had to grab another small handfull of legos for me to play with. But they weren't house pieces, it was all weird stuff, weird shapes. So I made a tower, stringing them all together for height. I didn't really think about it as I did it. I used every piece that I grabbed.

The tower breaks a couple rules that I had for legos when I was a kid. the main one is that I assumed the side of the blocks with the nubs was the top, and so any structure I built had the nubs on top. In the tower, the nubs are mostly on the side. The young me would insist that this tower is a brittle spaceship, with the base as thrusters ("thrusters" were one of a few exceptions to the nubs-on-top rule, via rockets in blast-off mode).

The other rule was that things had to be structurally sound, which almost always meant that bricks connected by at least 2 nubs. The side effect of this was that my old builds worked mostly on a gridded layout, because that's how the nubs are distributed. But if I allowed myself to make fragile constructions, I could pivot freely on a single point and get angles other than 90 degrees.

In deference to the young me, the tower ultimately has nubs-on-top, though out of spite I put wheels on the top cluster of nubs-up bricks, wheels that can't touch the ground, even if the tower were laid on its side. There are a few other build notes that would've driven young me crazy, things that delight the now me. Truly the child is the father of man-- obstinate, uptight, etc..

I was pretty happy with the tower, and sort of proud of myself for identifying and challenging the some of the limitations I had unknowingly established. So this one I tried to keep assembled as a piece, and I mostly succeeded. The reason I say mostly is that this tower was on the kitchen table for a while, and the table is a busy place, and it got knocked over a few times and had to be rebuilt. I didn't have a picture so I was just going on memory. Maybe it's different now? It's possible that it's better after multiple rebuilds than it was in it's original state, but it's so easy to imagine that it's A Little Not As Good But I Don't Know How.

Sometime in the tower's tenure on the kitchen table there was a secondary tower on the nearby windowsill. A bulbous little piece of cactus cutting that did nothing for months suddenly shot up a single growth, a long flat beavertail that jumped to 5 or 6 inches in no time, and then developed another tail off that, which went another 6 or 7 inches up up up. It seemed pretty wobbly, but it was standing, and I figured that it grew like that so it's gotta have support underneath. Unfortunately it just grew towards the window and toppled itself over. I righted it and then tied it to a dowel to keep it upright.







At first I was sure that the base would grow more sturdy in time and I could take the dowel out, but then I started thinking, what if this cactus tower wants to fall over? It sends a flat growth straight up, the structure tips towards the sun, and the flat growth is now the new base, and new growths pop up from there? When I was living with Roby she grew "walking onions" outside and they sort of had that strategy-- they'd grow really tall, develop seeds in the topmost part, then just fall over under their own weight, and the new seeds would drop right there, 2 or 3 feet from the base of the main plant.

Now I wish I had just let it fall, to see what happens. It's too late to try it now-- it's grown too much and I don't have a big enough pot for it to go sideways in. Plus it's covered in spikes that stick in you and cause pain on purpose-- I'm trying to keep physical interaction with this particular tower to a minimum.

Anyway it got me thinking about what if the lego tower also "wants" to fall in this way? What if it fell and shattered, and a piece shot off under the counter, and then a new tower started to grow there? Or more realistically, I find the piece much later and think "Oh, this is from that tower I built a while back. That was fun, I'll build another one." Most of the plants I have (like the cactus tower) I get from cuttings, little bits that fell off some larger plant. I tend to romanticize permanent structures and long-standing forms but this is a cool way to do it too, to be brittle and atomic and regenerative. Can you make a sculpture like that? Can you make a building like that?


In the Tarot, the card of the Tower seems like a catastrophe unmitigated, but the explosion at the top also looks like a flower, and the people falling down also look like they're dancing around it, like a Maypole. Each person is touching a green little leaf, and there's another green leaf on the Tower's green door. I'm not gonna say it's good, for a tower to collapse, but it's an interesting challenge, to think in vegetable time.

I never got to design my own house but when I was living in the mills I had a great opportunity to build my own room into the space, which pretty much meant building a little house inside of a huge room. The big room was drafty and dirty and we built our cozy clean little rooms into it, like little rowhouses. I built one and then took it down and re-built it a few years later. On the second go-around I realized I was going to be dissassembling and reassembling the room as long as I lived there, so I tried to make it easy to take apart later. I didn't get to take it apart though, I ended up just moving out. The new place is an apartment, no building required, permanent floorplan. I'm still making improvements though, you can't just turn that sort of thing off.


me and Nik Perry tearing down Boys Town II, 2009


first build, 2009


mid-tear-down, 2012

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of my room when it was "just a room". I guess I never think to take a picture when it's regular.

I made a third lego building, I guess it's a museum? It kind of looks like a museum. The first one was a house, designed for multi-purpose occupation, and the second one was a tower, designed for no purpose. This one is just designed and that's the purpose, I designed it and that's all.

It's all the same kind of brick: 2 x 4, and the goal is to make as complicated a structure as possible, to avoid right angles and parallels, and to still have a solid construction and feel "this is a building".

Many of the bricks overlap by just 1 nub, allowing a variety of angles. Some of the bricks barely overlap, only by the tiniest crumb of a corner-- it seems like it shouldn't be possible. Still, inside each room it's a regular box made of studs and drywall, or whatever you make a museum out of. As with the house, I'm allowed to imagine that any edges are connected with glass, and that interior zones can be subdivided or connected at will. Sometimes I imagine this as a modern blob building in steel and glass, with a roof. Sometimes it's just a pile of blocks with an open courtyard in the center. It's a tough call.

this red corner overlaps the yellow block by the tiniest tiniest bit

This has fallen off my desk a couple times but unlike the Tower, I think this gets rebuilt better each time. I could imagine someone really building this, but when I imagine myself inside I'm just running through stairwells and peeking out into weird zones. I live in the first building (sprawling, sturdy) while I work on this one (a crystal under duress). On weekends I fuck around in the tower. I love it when the tower falls, there's more stuff to do.

links / misc

  • I planned on doing an "architectural digest" issue of Mothers News but it quickly grew out of hand. Some of my research from that is germane to this topic though, so here goes

    • How Buildings Learn - TV program from Stewart "Whole Earth Catalog" Brand about multipurpose buildings and living in weird zones. [youtube]

    • An Ambitious Project Collapsing - great blog, defunct but still up, about architecture and PLAY. Really inspiring! [link]

    • I was inspired to build my room as modular and changeable by reading about architect Cedric Price, and his proposal for a Fun Palace. I was reading about him in a book, so no link, but here's an obit that gives a good description (archived link via Internet Archive) [link]

  • Years ago I went on a little summer vacation with some friends to Willy Shakes' grandparents' place in Maine. It was night time and we had just arrived, and some of our group were tediously arguing about some kind of idea, I forget what. Me and Will don't like arguing so we found the library and just hung out in there. The library had tons of poetry, which neither of us had really read or cared about, and just for laughs we started picking books at random and reading poems in funny voices. Will picked up New Poems and two sentances in we both had a shared moment of "wow, this is really something". Mockery turned to confusion and then excitement, which grew as the reading continued, into exhultation. I remember at the last line we both jumped up and shook hands, as if congratulating each other for being alive, and awakening to poetry. Maybe it reads as corny now, in the moment it was extraordinary.

    I wouldn't have thought about it but earlier in this post I wrote "catastrophe" and my hand followed it unbidden to "unmitigated" and it all came pouring in. [link]

  • probably precious few of you are regularly checking Tsarlag's Tumblr, but it's the best way to keep in touch with the Slime Sinatra himself-- There's a newish record on bandcamp [bandcamp] and some new material in the shop (including a movie and original comics pages!) [link]. the tumblr is here: [tumblr]

  • If you like plants, and are open to the idea of a TV show about them, I strongly recommend Gardeners' World, which me and Mori just started watching. It's pretty chill. It's a British show in its 53rd season, and it's filmed and released in a week so the times match up with what you need to do in your garden, mixed with roaming footage shot approimately 51 weeks ago. It feels really weird to be watching a show that just got filmed-- I haven't watched broadcast TV since the Olympics I think? This is so basic but it's kind of an incredible feeling to connect with a show this way! It's like seeing something filmed in your town and thinking "that's our town!" except it's "that's our week!".

    After 53 years on the air they're pretty dialed in to their craft but this season they got even more dialed in-- in the spirit of "the show must go on", they set up cameras all around presenter Monty Don's garden, and he's just walking around doing everything himself. You can tell he's sort of awkward talking to the camera without someone behind the camera, it's really cute. Then I guess he just uploads the footage along with plenty of B roll of his beautiful golden retrievers, and someone else edits it all together, scooby doo.

    I was reading the wiki a little bit and found out that in 2006 or 7 they changed the format to be kind of faster and dumber and everyone got super pissed so they changed it back. So there, it can happen!

  • I shouldn't bury this right at the end but a few people mentioned that they wanted to get new articles emailed to them, because they're bad at remembering to check a website and they don't want to miss any. So I set that up, and you can sign up on the contact page, where it says "sign up to get posts by email" [link]. There's also an RSS feed now. Sorry it took me so long to do this!

  • Maybe this is obvious to everyone else but I got this far in writing (after "the end") before I realized that "lego" is also "l'ego"... boioioioioing.... Well whatever it's too late, I'm over deadline as it is. Take it with "a pinch of salt, if not ginger".

I got a bunch of nice messages this week from people who were hanging out in the castle, it's really nice to know there's people in here poking around! Probably going to do another "reader mail" next week so blast me a message if you have a question or comment or just want to say "someone's in here"-- [link]. And if you really want to go the distance and drop a coin in the bucket, feel free to head over to the temple and ring the bell! [link]