Archive for July, 2011

I Shouldn’t’ve Been Surprised

But painting is a SKILL.

I set out today to express my feelings on canvas.  Like any amateur painter, I was convinced that it wasn’t as hard as it looked.  All those people that dreaded arts&crafts class just weren’t following the directions carefully enough.  Red + blue = purple, and any color under the rainbow can be made using the primary three….right?

Palette knife in hand, I approach my landscape canvas, drop cloth strewn haphazardly below my easel.  (Drop clothes, too, were for dummies—-the only reason paint gets everywhere is a. you do something stupid or b. you do something stupid on purpose, in which case you should get a huge studio and plenty of Goodwill clothes like Jackson Pollock.)  I lived to regret both the palette knife and the haphazard drop cloth.

Apparently colors can be active and passive---without your help.

Apparently colors can be active and passive---without your help.

The first flesh tone I designed (yes, I used that pretentious word) was fairly successful.  The person looked, as I’d hoped, sickly and a little yellow.  Yay for me: not only could I paint a person that matched my skin color, but I could do it “expressfully”—implying emotion and grandeur beyond the frame.  Yeah, whatever.  When I tried to do some shading to provide depth of perspective, I royally screwed up.  How the hell do you make a “darker” flesh tone that implies shadow, not an entirely different ethnicity?  Crap, I’m in over my head.

I start mixing and mixing and mixing and mixing.  Now I have every painter’s nightmare: that non-descript, totally ugly gray-imposter that you get when there’s a little of EVERY color you purchased fighting to make something of itself in the goop thats now overflowing the neat little rims of your $5 plastic palette.  Shit.

Finally, I give up and mix it on the canvas (I’m a fan of texture anyway).

A few hours and a few hail Marys later, I’ve got an abstract, multimedia piece—complete with water drips down the canvas and some left over crepe paper from last year’s birthday party cockeyed pretentiously across the muddy color fields.  Damn, if I could only come up with some deep and meaningful title like “No. 432,” I could really go somewhere with this.  I wonder: does eBay have a fine art section?  Maybe I could at least get back the cost of paint…all the gallons and gallons I’m now pouring down my sink, trying to avoid getting yelled at for running up the water bill.

Oh, yeah.  And I dripped right beside the drop cloth, and my clean white carpet becomes the casualty of my self-expression.

Just another lovely Saturday afternoon as an inspired young professional coming to terms with the vicissitudes of modern life.  (Click here to see.)

 

Living in a Tragicomedy

Harold decides he is in a tragedy but ends in a comedy.

Harold decides he is in a tragedy but ends in a comedy.

There is a fantastic scene from Stranger Than Fiction in which Harold Crick, a tax auditor, tallies the moments of his life in a little notebook.  His goal: to discover if his life is a tragedy or a comedy.  According to the oldest dramatic traditions, either he will get married (accepted into society and always have backup) or die (evicted from the planet by force of Mother Nature or a fellow human). Sometimes I wish I had a little black book to tell me so.

The baker gives you an extra cookie, no charge: comedy.  Your high school crush comments on your profile picture and says your new summer tan makes you look, quote, “hot”: comedy.  You catch the season finale of Swamp People while channel surfing: comedy.  Flying down the highway at 80 mph, you pass an officer pulling someone else over for a ticket: comedy.  All the little things that add up to assure you that you belong in the world, your place is valuable, and you’re going to make it in life.

You show up for your dentist appointment one day and one hour late: tragedy.  You forget to turn in your timesheet on Thursday—which means your paycheck won’t get issued until the following Wednesday and the USPS won’t put it in your mailbox until the Monday after that: tragedy.  Your bank teller informs you that depositing at the counter will cost you $9 since your account is now “paperless”: tragedy.  The can of soda that you accidentally left in your car’s backseat cup holder explodes in the 120-degree heat while you’re working (caffeine-less) in the 55-degree office: tragedy.  All the little things that accrue as evidence that you have no idea what you’re doing, the world doesn’t want you in it, and life ends when you’re 40 but can’t start until then either (something about paychecks and salaries and “work experience”).

the Master of Tragicomedy: Charlie Chaplin

the Master of Tragicomedy: Charlie Chaplin

So—all taken into account, is a life comedic or tragic?  And, according to Tolstoy, Chekov, and a  host of other brilliant Russian authors, does it even matter whether it’s one or the other?  Is Romeo and Juliet the world’s greatest tragedy or cruelest comedy? The answer: yes.

Life is a tragicomedy.  And the only way to ever make it through one of those is to keeping moving.  Crying, laughing, skipping, or crawling, the show must go on.  Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, after all; so make the best of it, they would say.

I re-discovered in the trunk of my car this week a box of books.  Not because my car is so unbelievably cluttered that I forgot it was there; I forgot it was there because it has become a permanent fixture in my trunk.  This box of books has been in my trunk since Spring 2010.  Yes, 2010.  I put it there after a book swap put on by the English Majors Association.  The problem is that English majors hoard books, they don’t share them.  The leftovers we planned on donating to a local library near our college.  That was my best intention.

What is your "box of books"?

What is your "box of books"?

I convinced myself that even though the books rode all the way home with me when I cleaned out my apartment after graduation, when I visited my friends left behind, they would ride all the way back to the poor provincial library to whom they were justly due.  We all see how that turned out.  Tragic?  Slightly.  Comedic? Slightly.  Absurd?  Absolutely.  And in the face of absurdity, the only answer is to keep going and quit carrying all your baggage around.  All the undone things that sit in the trunk of psyche.  All the decisions about whether or not we failed or succeeded.  They should be mercifully cleared away.

I will be visiting my local library this afternoon—with a tragicomical smile of relief on my face.

Stories and Stomachs

“Are you sure they will print it?  How do you know?”

The power of print has risen and fallen with the times.  From the bitter sarcasm of the 1700s to the yellow journalism of the 1800s to the profound belief in the leverage of text in the 1900s—does it matter that something is put down in writing?

can our books really help us?

can our books really help us?

Three Days of the Condor asks this question as it covers three days in the life of a CIA bookworm played by Robert Redford.  His entire section—which reads every book published in the known world, backwards and forwards to find code—is murdered.  Inexplicably.  The film doesn’t bother with the details until a shabby hand-off at the end.  The film isn’t about Redford being an action star or single-handedly cleaning house for the First World.  The film is preoccupied with people and how the games of information are really tied to what they want.  (THEY personifies every person with a stomach, a mouth, and a trigger finger.)

Higgins, the CIA director that Redford muscles onto his side in his quest for the answers, says it doesn’t really matter, wars and politics and all that.  Whether it’s oil or food or healthcare, people won’t care how its gotten to as long as its gotten for them.  Redford tries to corner the CIA through the press, but Higgins argues that the press is powerless because it is predicated on a luxury: ideals.

Ideals not in the sense that “Mr. Right is six foot tall, dark, and handsome; must love dogs.”  Ideals in the sense that Plato talked about them, Truth and Beauty and everything.  Abstract concepts about how the world should be and how the world really is apart from everything else.  Redford is like a condor, an endangered bird, because he is of a dwindling portion of the population that believes in the power of stories.  He believes in the power of stories to express reality; Higgins thinks stories mask the real thing.  When people who have never been hungry suddenly can’t find their next meal, will the free exchange of ideas and equality among nations and multi-lateral cooperation have any weight at all?

each player struts his moment upon the stage

each player struts his moment upon the stage

This 1975 thriller does belong in its era—full of unrest and promise, wishful thinking and bitter encounters.  But it speaks for my generation, too.  It speaks for my generation because it is about the fear that things won’t really turn out alright in the end like they always have.  The fear is that despite the power of words, despite the “power” of education, we’ve come to despise our language.  It marks us as greedy and its only use is feeding ourselves.

Faye Dunaway is not the distracting love interest because she dares to question the story.  “Why did you tie me up?  You’ve got fine qualities but he’ll understand.  He’s tough. I’ll do my best.”  Our stories aren’t working anymore because they’ve separated themselves from the real thing: a home, clothes, food, transportation, communication.  Where does all that comes into the play?  Faye’s best means going back to the man that can put those on the table, whose ignorance provides for her bliss.  Is there room in the playbook for stories and stomachs or must they always part ways at a misty railway station in the end?

 

ps. I find it especially provocative that the CIA operations in NY are depicted as being located in the Twin Towers.  It is surreal to see them on film, so familiarly used.

Anger: Digression

Quietly the change comes upon me.  Soft and stealthy at first and then with roaring, hide and sinew exploding everywhere.  Anger is a rough handler.  He pounds you down into the ground, through the tunnel to China—expectorated out the other side of the green orb.  If you’re already in China, you tear apart Butte, Montana on your way out into the chasm-pocked deep.  (I say “Butte, Montana” only because it seems appropriate not because I know it to be geographically across from the vast provinces of “China”—-poetry should never be technically accurate about the insubstantial realities of life.)  Anger is like the Red Bull in The Last Unicorn, God help us all.  I feel like the last unicorn sometimes—the geeky leftover of a glorious mythology.  Not enough like the harpy or the pegasus to really be myth but not enough like your pet pony to be led into your foyer and fed apples and sugar during a tap routine.  Its hard to be stuck between myth and fact, poor unicorn.  People only believe what they can see in front of them or what is so far removed that it shimmers ever before the mind’s eye. Magic is stuffed.  Anger is stuffed.  Real feelings are stuffed under the ice, let out through a little whole, baited by wicked hooks that sting and rip and exorcise the darkness of Below.  No body wants to go down to the Deeps, all by themselves rummaging around the insides.  People tend to get lost in the dark, and above all—thank GPS—we forbid ourselves to get lost.  Its too stressful, not knowing what’s next; so we make up games, the rules whereby we predict outcomes, generate patterns and expectations.  Most expectations get met, of course.  And if they are disappointed, you could have expected that.  Anger knows.  Anger sees.  Anger doesn’t feel and so mocks you for feeling.  Maybe anger is a big red bull, charging through the forest, hunting down the last of your weak glories.  (This, of course, is the kind of anger that petty people feel for themselves and each other—not the rich, dazzling anger of a righteous lord, wreaking havoc on behalf of the trammeled.  I feel that’s an important point to bring up.  Pardon the digression.)  Anger.  Anger.  Anger.

There.

the many faces of anger

the many faces of anger

Soft Lays the Night

Soft lays the night on my beating heart.

Not one, but two things have I spoken.

Don’t forget to turn in your key

when you pack up your things and sashay  away with a crisp apple between your teeth

the last fruit of a weary yoke.

 

I remembered you at the dawn.

When the mists rolled in through the asphalt cracks and the brakes tore through the treads.

I was there.

I was there when you cried and shuffled to the three-step dirge.

Don’t look away now, in the soft of the night,

in the pillow of the patterned fall.

 

I will be there again in the blazing 1 p.m. sliding the card in the slot.

Quiet laps the evening on the memories of my mind,

On the tired places that cannot pull together but lie naked, beating at the surface.

 

Sleep in peace, and pass on to the Time, my wild-hearted friend.

 

Soft Lays the Night

 

The Sound of Toil

A fine romance

A fine romance

The Sound of Music is one of those inexorable movies that you either love or hate—-and it may change by the moment.  But the other night when I watched it with my sisters, I was “twitterpated” with it again!  And, like sweet-and-salty snacks, it’s a delicious contrast with another Best Picture winner, Chicago.

The 1965 winner is full of deceptively light-sounding songs about the savvy and perseverance required in an age when noble men lived in sprawling villas raising brilliant children and charming lovely ladies on the ballroom floor.  Seems like an era that didn’t need much perseverance, doesn’t it.  But what I appreciated about The Sound of Music this time was the fact that underneath all the bubbly childish cheer, there is a darker side of a vanishing life.  The house is empty and shadows when Maria arrives.  The children’s uniforms don’t quite fit correctly.  There are no groundskeepers, although the startling view of the lake never alters.  The gala ballroom is full of characters we don’t know, and horses and motorcars vie for the gravel drive.  The story is intimate, but in its intimacy it is also empty—foreshadowing the stripping and rending to come.  Examining Maria’s bedroom during “My Favorite Things,” it struck me that she and the children would have little to take when they ran away: the rooms were like guest rooms, nothing personal, simply accommodating.

Could this be your silhouette?

Could this be your silhouette?

But in the midst of a broken rhythm of Disappearing, The Sound of Music is wildly romantic and sexy in a soft and subtle way that Chicago countermands.  The sexiness of The Sound of Music is its concrete link to where sexiness came from: child-bearing.  No, of course, child-bearing doesn’t present well on-screen as an erotic and inspiring moment, but the love-bond between a husband and wife is quite literally manifested in their children.  What makes Maria and Georg’s bond so wonderful is that they love each other so well, especially through their tenderness with The Children, despite the fact that The Children are not Theirs.  It’s the ultimate love story—for the same irrefutable reason that movies as hilarious and quirky as Yours, Mine, and Ours and Cheaper By the Dozen have a timeless effect: real love bears fruit.

Chicago, on the other hand, depicts the empty eroticism of love disjoined from materiality.  Like a strip tease act, it struts upon its stage promising a lot but delivering little—or, when the moment of delivery comes, its rather disappointing and we wish the mystery were still there.

The world of Austria in the ’30s may have required perseverance of a political nature (which political scene creates a lovely tableau for Maria to demonstrate her new role as Georg’s wife, not simply his governess); but the Chicago of the ’20s is the kind of perseverance that doesn’t ennoble humanity but rather betrays it.  In Roxie and Velma we meet women who we wish could have the luxury of love but for whom we know there is no hope if they don’t reject sincere feeling.  Their lives are too damn hard to actually be experienced full-body.

What are you gonna do about it?

What are you gonna do about it?

Yes, Chicago is dazzling and titillating and it makes you want to watch more, but it ultimately dies away at the end, dissipating into a vapor, a remembrance of hard days and harder nights.

Now for the kicker: while reading Anton Chekov’s short story “On Official Business,” I was struck by the following lines:

And [the magistrate] felt that [the insurance agent]’s suicide and the peasant’s misery lay on his conscience, too; to be reconciled to the fact that these people, submitting to their fate, shouldered all that was darkest and most burdensome in life—how terrible that was!  To be reconciled to this, and to wish for oneself a bright and active life among happy, contented people, and constantly to dream of such a life, that meant dreaming of new suicides of men crushed by toil and care, or of weak, forgotten men of whom people only talk sometimes at supper with vexation or sneers, but to whom no help is offered.  And again: “We go on, go on, go on…”

the anxiety of our age

the anxiety of our age

Could it be that The Sound of Music is only possible because of Chicago?  And what I mean, I suppose, when I say that is really: does the rare, high life floating up near Plato’s Ideal Forms and religion’s noblest creeds depend on a substrate of broken lives and wasted toil?  Can Captain Von Trapp play his suit because Amos pays $2000 to be upstandin’?  Is it as devastatingly simple as the fact that raising seven children is terribly expensive, and, of course you can fall in love if you can afford a governess, but God help you if you’re in so deep you invent a child to save your neck from the noose?  Volcanic soil is the richest for harvest, so scientists say…but does anyone ever consider that the ingredients of finer living (organic food, anyone?) come from much accumulated pressure and toil underneath our floor?  Is one man’s ceiling another man’s staircase to paradise?

The injustice of this must topple in the End.

Immersive Media

I used to think—and I still do—that reading is the most immersive media.  In silence, you can transport yourself to entirely Other worlds by yielding up your ghost to the guidance of another Voice.

What absolutely floored me today, however, was my discovery of a new immersive media that almost trumps the implosive power of silent reading: 3D binaural stories.  A [brilliant] friend of mine, Celu Ramasamy, has created a group that is pioneering new storytelling media, and Mind Theater is arresting.  It is reminiscent of radio theater because you listen, but it is spelling binding because it is like 3D film.  Plug in your headphones, run the calibrator, and close your eyes.  The sounds are real.

You can't give in just a little...

You can't give in just a little...

I felt the space around me and caught myself looking over my shoulder just to be sure I wasn’t on the train to India with the Son going home to his Father’s village.  Rain outside their house is near and far simultaneously.  The house is close and hot because the air echos on the bare walls and sits backs down beside me after the last reverberation.  When the Son fills a glass of water for the Father, I know the tap was exactly three feet behind me to the left; he carried it past me to his Father, on my right.

As absorbing and relaxing as this 30-minute aural experience ultimately proved, I was undone by listening to parts of it with my eyes open.  Like the unnerving scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca when Maxim de Winter recounts a conversation with his deceased wife to an empty room and the camera follows her movements although she isn’t there, so also, I could see the Indian Father and Son walk across my bedroom with their glass of water and dinner in hand.  The front porch where they ate supplanted my computer desk before me, and, while my parakeets flew overhead, delighting in a sojourn about my bedroom, the rain poured out of the Indian sky, drenching my tiny Georgian existence.

That’s when I discovered what makes any media, any experience immersive: exclusion.  Reading takes you places because you close off your other senses, save only your racing eyes.  The new 3D stories take you places because you close off your other senses, save only your ears.  Dessert is the best part of the day when all you do is taste it.  And the touch of a lover is never sweeter than when you completely surrender the other four defenses.  Wholeheartedness is addictive.

Our increasingly stimulating media environment is said to “drown” us, and, yes, your lungs will fail if you open your eyes, your ears, and your mouth, sucking in the ocean with every pore.  But, if you close your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and repeatedly reach out to touch, you will find you can swim.  It is glorious to be absorbed.