Archive | December, 2012

5 things

30 Dec

You know what’s funny?  The amount of year end lists we all get around this time of year, as if the year was already digested and we’re ready to run into another one.  In a month all of those lists (or most of them) will be completely forgotten.  In reality, we won’t know what was important this year versus not until about 2017.  Why?  Because things emerge, important events that happened in this year haven’t even bloomed yet, we’re just looking at the fruits of 2007 here.    So here’s what I’m into this year’s end.

1.  Early 90’s house music, particularly ones that use the piano.  I’m thinking of things like Snap! and Black Box.  There’s such a big positive surge of energy in them that sounds refreshing.

2  Tangerines.  Nothing to beat the winter blues than these little balls of California sunshine.

3.  The weird world of 4H art.  I don’t know what it is with those people and gods-eyes and horses painted on chunks of wood, but I’m really enjoying the rough-hewn stuff they have there.

4.  Flourish–By Seligman–A book that (for me) kind of makes me argue with myself.  I think that Seligman has a very interesting view on happiness and well-being, however, I’m not sure I agree with all his tenants.    That being said, I’m reserving my judgement until I’ve completely read this, I can say for sure that this is bringing me new ideas.

5.  The Art 21 blog.  What a lovely place!  All those ideas and talking about art!    Hoo-ray!

5.

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The End of 2012

29 Dec

Well, the end of another year looms, and while it’s not quite over yet, I’m ready to embrace 2013 with open arms. There’s something about 2012 that just needs to end, to be history, to be memories.

Of course I also have to be wary of rushing forward, because in that rushing, we can miss life as it happens, and that’s a shame. So I’m going to put 2012 into a set of images.

An unwinding spool of thread. An old lady wearing one of those hats with a mesh veil. Squishy wet earth. An airport all grey and silver. City lights gleaming in a set of neon squares. A lovely dinner in an unfortunately extremely noisy restaurant. Little E and her gigantic hair.

All the small trees, brightly colored, huddled together. Old tv shows and their congenial chatter. If news was a person he’d be that person that makes all older people look bad.

Clicking clocks. My phone cracking and breaking apart piece by piece. Leaving resolutions by the wayside this year. Some lovely meditations.

Being in a lot. Avoiding people. Monklike. Couplehood, comfortable, and delightful.

A year of building, of looking inward, of opening my eyes. A year of wait.

I of course have my hopes for 2013, but I don’t want to say them yet. 2012 isn’t over yet, and I have time to put a few more memories in, before we box up this year and put it in the attic.

I recommend that you do the same.

Pop Culture Friday! Wearing your granddad’s coat edition

28 Dec

1.   Macklemore–Thrift Shop–So I had already reviewed the top five downloads which were all very commercial and had their good points, and I was absolutely thrilled to find this at number 6.  If there’s an artist today that makes my heart skip a beat out of pure respect for his unbridled creativity and originality, it is Macklemore, compared to whom, the rest of the artists are so bland, they might as well be porridge.

At first glance, Thrift Shop seems like a novelty song, it’s full of jokes and sight gags and silliness, but it’s so much more.  For one thing the music is very intelligently crafted, the samples will float through your head like raspberries in a punchbowl, and while some of the jokes are a bit juvenile, the song, the video, the everything just pulses with life.  This is no commercial, this is music–music from a real live person about real life stuff.  So behind the (intentionally) ridiculous bragging in this song, we see a group of multi-ethnic, real person shaped, people, having a great time at the goodwill.  The weird thing is that goodwill is the best word to describe Macklemore–he not only wants to live life to the gills, he wants to have everyone around him to do the same.  Part of his genius is always making you feel like you’re in on the joke even when you’re not.

What’s more, he taps into something with the DIY culture that goes with goodwills and youtube and all the rest–it’s a certain amount of muppety grabbing at life that celebrates the differences, even the flaws which make us human, rather than airbrushing everything to oblivion.  (One of his lines in another song, which I think he’s perfectly serious about is “I do not want to be a mannequin” which is the perfect idea, not only for how the personality gets bleached out of musical artists, but also how they just turn into a hanger for things to sell.)  And there’s a huge amount of criticism towards today’s culture of separation and commodificaton of nearly everything.

And it’s one thing to be critical of commercial culture, and to be pushing the DIY thing, but the thing that Macklemore puts in more than anything else, is humanity–humanity, with all our eccentric charms, flows through the blood of every song with such a strong pulse that it trumps everything else.  Let me tell you, Macklemore has vision, and that is why he has my heart.

2.  And the rest–Well the book is The Racketeer by John Grisham, but it doesn’t sound particularly different from his other offerings, and the youtube video was roosterteeth, but it’s just the same sort of silly humor you’ve seen before.  All I have to say, they don’t hold a candle to Macklemore, so I’m telling you to check him out!

Poetry Reading, Percy Bryce Shelley, Mutability

27 Dec

Let’s start out with a simple confession:  I used to loathe the Romantic poets with every fiber of my being.  I took a class in the romantics and I quickly got sick of the stuff.  Now, years later, I realize that I might have suffered too much of a good thing.  The romantics are all about Feeling with a capital F, so unlike the generations before them who were much more formal, and the generation after them (the Victorians) who were much more part of an industry, the romantics tend to drench each poem in such emotion that sometimes they collapse under it.  The thing that saves the romantics from becoming too much is that the emotions they describe are never simple emotions, but whole landscapes that have multiple shades of meaning.

So let’s take Mutability, which means, a state of constant changing (though it’s interesting to note that the word mutation is closely related).  Shelley says that we “are as clouds that veil the midnight moon.”  So imagine a full moon at midnight (and the romantics were exactly the sort who would like to be lying around moon-gazing and thinking about what things mean to them) and how it’s like this tiny spotlight in this great sky, and while the rest of the sky is mostly black, the moon shows a whole set of clouds, “how restlessly they seed, and gleam, and quiver,/Streaking the darkness radiantly!”  Those clouds surrounding that little moon never stay still, never reconfigure into the same shapes, but change over and over again.  However, sooner or later either the moon sets, or full cloud cover comes in and “night comes round, and they are lost for ever.”  Night here is just darkness, and Shelly is not saying that clouds or the moon are lost forever, but our perception of them is, even if we get another night with the same conditions, something will be different.

The next stanza compares us to “forgotten lyres” (partially because if there’s something a romantic was doing while not watching the moon, he was thinking about outmoded Roman instruments),  these stringed instruments are not finely tuned, so plucking a string can “give various response…to whose frail frame no second motion brings/One mood or modulation like the last.”  So, we are like an aging instrument that cannot make the same performance twice.  Notice in both these metaphors death is nearby, with the moon and the darkness (darkness is almost a universal symbol for death), as well as the decrepit instrument that will sooner or later move to beyond repair.

And now we move from metaphor to experience.  “We rest. –A dream has power to poison sleep;/We rise.–One wandering thought pollutes the day.”  A nice two line punch that fits with the first two stanzas very neatly–The moon and night, the lyre and day, how nicely Shelley builds this whole little system, for couldn’t his image of the moon be what poisoned his sleep?  And couldn’t the lyre be the thought (plucked as if from a string) that polluted his day?  That’s the thing with the romantics, these statements seem self-evident, but the amount of consciousness needed to see these traits, as well as verbalize them is astounding.  Everything is different; everything is connected.  He finishes the stanza with the reactions we can have to these facts we can “feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;/Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away.”  So we basically can feel, think, or watch, or show a physical reaction (weeping/laughter) and finally sink into despair, or push despair away.  These really are the basic human reactions to change.    So I bet you think Shelley has a preferred reaction/way to address change?

“It is the same!” Ha ha, fooled you!  Nope, to Shelley it doesn’t matter a bit how anybody reacts to all these changes.  So Shelley’s theory as he writes it would go something like this:  1.  Everything is always changing.  2.  Everything is connected.  3.  We react to everything, which makes us part of everything 4.  Which makes everything the same (in its constant changing).

The most puzzling lines here are Shelley’s explanation “For, be it joy or sorrow,/the path of its departure still is free.”  In other words whether we are happy or sorrowful, these feelings will ultimately end–they are brief energies that only exist for a time.  “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;/Nought may endure but Mutability.”    Only change is constant, everything else is temporary.

So basically this is a meditation on change, and this is what I did not see in the romantics before, how bread and butter they can be.  This poem can be applied to anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Everything changes, whatever is right now won’t be one day.  All there is, is change.

Shelley has a bunch of works focused on how nothing lasts, but unlike the book of Lamentations which finds this to be a woeful state of affairs, Shelley rejoices in it, instead of nothing lasts, so why bother, Shelley is more like, nothing lasts, so enjoy yourself!  To Shelley you are no more in control of your destiny than a leaf in a stream, but Shelley finds that as a source of liberation rather than despair.    After all, isn’t the idea that we are all free to craft our destinies a little bit of a trap?  Does everyone deserve where they end up?  Also there’s a certain comfort that if you just wait long enough the emotional scenery will change–submitting to mutability leaves you a whole lot less distracted to our job of noticing and reacting to things.

Now while I really like the thoughts of this poem, I do have a few misgivings, because there’s a huge difference between embracing change and being fickle, and the romantics can be accused of doing both.  Also, while self-determinism can make people have a certain amount of judgement on the world, mutability does tend to lend itself to people being very passive, and not taking responsibility for their own feelings (though in Shelley’s defense, he never advocates for that.)    While embracing change is a great thing, it shouldn’t take away from the situations where we do have the power to shape things, even if those situations are few and far between.

Art Review, Norman Rockwell, Christmas Homecoming

24 Dec

I couldn’t have picked out anything but Norman Rockwell for this Christmas.  There are people who don’t like him very much, who think of him like Thomas Kincaid, but I think that’s a little sour.  It would be like disliking It’s a Wonderful Life because it isn’t as deep as Citizen Kane.   Another reason people sometimes dislike him is the strong scent of nostalgia coming from his work, and while one can tire of seeing his things on endless mugs and posters and hotels and whatnot, I can’t help but say there’s a huge difference between him and other nostalgic artists.

If you want to look at things as they are, Norman Rockwell is not your man.  He is all about idealization, but at the same time, it’s a distinctive idealization–it’s how we would like things to be.  There’s some criticism that he never shows illness or death, he rarely shows anybody being even more than momentarily unhappy, but these are not his subjects, and he shows that how things should be, when he’s at his best, can be every bit as deep as navel gazing over how things are.

In this image a soldier returns home.  In one hand is a suitcase, and in the other is an armful of presents.  Behind him, his son holds his hat.  Two girls are dressed in identical jumpers, and in front of him a whole extended family crowds forward showing their individual expressions of joy.  The thing is that each joyful face is so idiosyncratic and tells you a ton about the relations there.  The father with his pipe and his raised eyebrows, the woman holding up her baby, another women in the back waving up her hand, the older woman smiling and paying very close attention, and in front of them all his wife, whose face looks happy, and infinitely relieved.    You know, not every soldier gets this kind of homecoming, maybe not very many, but every soldier should.

And there are a million little details that add to it.  Of course the mother would dress her daughters alike, of course the little boy would want to hold his father’s hat,  of course the man’s suitcase would be poorly packed (he was in a hurry to get home after all).

And that’s the other thing, I wouldn’t like this picture if I felt like it was phony–that the emotion here was put there to wring one more tear out of an old lady’s eye–I don’t think it is so.  I think Rockwell believes very strongly in the goodness of human connection, in warmth, in family, in cheer, and I think that these things in themselves are what we have to hope for, no matter what your circumstances.

This Christmas

23 Dec

Even before the recent tragedies, I’ve noticed that this holiday season has been a bit muted.  There seem to be less lights out, less cheer, less jollity than I remember in a long time.  Of course it’s understandable, the mood of the country is decidedly sour, and people feel a bit lost in the shuffle in all the unpleasant news around.

Here’s what I’d like to see this Christmas, more goodwill.  Goodwill is just assuming that everyone is doing the best they can to the best of their ability and knowledge until proven otherwise.  I can have goodwill–that doesn’t mean I”ll agree with everyone’s opinions or think what they are doing is the wisest move all the time, but I can assume it’s what they think is right, and it’s acknowledging there are huge swathes of experience in anybody’s life that I am not aware of right now.  It’s the same sort of thinking that helps if a cashier is being cranky to you, you can either make it all about you (which it’s probably not) or just jump to the conclusion that they’re having a hard day, and you don’t know if this cashier has just dealt with five jerks before seeing your face before them.

Goodwill helps a lot–it’s also hoping for the best for people, getting away from the idea that good things are limited, and that anybody getting a good thing is a good thing in itself.  It gets rid of jealousy or envy, and in most ordinary interactions we can assume that people mean well even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

Goodwill also takes away the urge to change people’s minds about things.  After all, everyone has their own opinions on things, and discussions on the more sensitive ones tend to leave people entrenched rather than creating understanding.  With goodwill, I don’t even have to understand why someone has an opinion I wouldn’t have, I just assume that they have it for their own reasons, which ultimately we all do anyway.

So I hope for everyone, a wonderful holiday, whatever that may include for you, to be reminded of your blessings, to be able to enjoy some of the good things of this world, brightness, warmth, gentleness,  and hope.    And once you get these things this holiday, may you never let them go.

Pop Culture Friday!!!! Taylor Swift knows trouble

21 Dec

1.  Taylor Swift–Trouble When You Walked in–Ok, so I’m completely neutral when it comes to Taylor Swift.  I think she’s nice enough, I certainly appreciate all the causes that she supports, but I always found her kind of, vanilla.  Completely inoffensive, but nothing that gets its hooks into me.  This song doesn’t really change that opinion, mostly because it seems to be squarely aimed towards teenage girls.  Anyway, the video starts with her monologuing about her pain the morning after some outdoor festival.  She rolls in the dirt and EMOTES, going in and out of the fetal position, and standing with her mouth open, saying things like “You can’t find yourself until you’ve lost yourself” and other self-help statements for girls who have suffered through bad break-ups.  We flashback, and see her on a whirlwind romance with a Badboy–or at least a guy who looks like the “bad” member of a boyband.  He gets in a fight at a bar!  We see police!  He rides a motorcycle.  He’s TROUBLE!!!!!   Anyway, we see Taylor swift clutch her fists and writhe in pain whenever she’s around him, so I’m not sure why she hangs out with him, but he leaves her for another pixie girl and she ends up in the dirt at the dance party, where the whole video start.

Ok, I get it.  We’ve all fallen for someone who wasn’t good for us, and sit around just filled with that horrible wanting when they don’t really care.  It’s as universal as gravity.   At the time it feels life-changing, but just a few months later you wonder who was that person and why on earth did I fall so hard?  And I can see an army  of young women sitting in their bedrooms and going through all seven stages of grief as they cry into their pillows and tear up photographs, then tape them back together.  I can say one thing, that I’m sure glad I’m not in that emotional space anymore.  But it doesn’t really speak to me.  Reviewers have commented on how raw this album is, but I really don’t find it that way, I more see it as keenly aware of its demographic.

2.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn–This week’s number one book is an interesting one–after all these boilerplate series, we’ve got an author that seems to build a story in a rather literary (while also pop) way.  It’s a sort of Hitchcockian story where a woman is dead (or is she?) and her husband is the prime suspect, and we see things from both of their points of view and neither are trustworthy.  It’s a sort of very smart airplane read, and I can get behind that stuff 100 percent.  One thing that I find interesting is that the internet seems filled with people who HATE the ending because people don’t get what they deserve, that the bad people don’t get punished, and the good people don’t get rewarded.  I find this interesting.

Why do we want this in a book?  Life doesn’t afford this, in fact, Life more often takes random chance and people try to reason how they got what they deserved or not.  While justice is a natural desire, sometimes I find the thirst for justice to be confused with a thirst for revenge.  To me, justice is a head thing, while revenge is a feeling thing.  Justice makes the world better for everyone if fairly administered, revenge makes things worse, so whenever people get that way I start to shrink a little.   Is hurting someone ok just because they hurt someone else?  Doesn’t hurting someone harm more than the person being hurt?  I have another division between justice and revenge–justice wants fairness, while revenge wants people to suffer.  While wanting people to suffer when they’ve done awful things is a very human feeling, it’s one that is incredibly dangerous to succumb to, it makes for mean spirited people who cause more harm than the people they are after, I can tell you that.

3.  Mu-Yap–Turkish music–This is one of the biggest you-tube channels.  The biggest thing I found surprising is how cosmopolitan I found a lot of the videos.  People are dressed to the nines, and while the music has a very strong Turkish flavor, they’re dressed like artists and models here, which surprised me in general.  One of the videos Canim Isterse is straight-up what little 14 yo grunge-lover pewterbreath would have found cool, replete with pouting and ironic standing around a vw.  However, the rest are extremely glamorous as well, and I think that’s what I found surprising, the focus on glamour that goes beyond what American videos are doing right now.

4.  The Jim Henson Doodle book.  For your Christmas, get yourself this.  It’s wonderful.