30 November 2007

I Believe.

Lately I find myself inclined to preface statements with phrases like these:

- I believe...
- In my opinion...
- If you ask me...
- From my perspective...

There are many variations on this qualifier, I'm sure you get the idea. Sometimes I feel like I need to construct an airtight signature disclaimer, which I can append to every single expressed thought that comes out of my head, so that no matter what, everyone will know that what I've said has its roots in my perspective, not in the externally agreed reality. This is always the case, of course, even with perceived facts (such as the externally agreed reality), but that's a whole other philosophical discussion.

Why do I feel like I need to remind people that when I say something, I'm expressing my point of view? Am I afraid that people will take me too seriously, and accept something I've said as opinion, as a universal fact? (This has happened, and it disturbs me.) Am I afraid that without the qualifier, my opinions are too strong? (Too strong for whom?) Am I concerned that sometimes people cannot distinguish persistent facts from opinions? (this is certainly true, but I'm not sure how much I care.)

More likely, this is my reaction to seeing people express their own opinions as universal facts. I am the type of person who tries to live a corrective life. I try to do right, the things I think other people are doing wrong. This is probably an extension of having a naturally critical/analytical temperament, and in a real sense, it punishes me for the sins of the world. If you do badly this time, I need to do better next time. This trait also leads me toward a profound tendency to begin interactions with some variant on the theme You Are Doing That Wrong. It's endlessly useful, if we're talking about proofreading and critical analysis, troubleshooting, crisis management.

It's less useful if you're talking about something that someone holds very near and dear.

Opinions are a kind of fact, of course. It's the fact of what's true for a given individual at a given time. As such, they can't be disproven or invalidated... they can only be discarded and replaced. But, for the duration of their glory, they are true. Totally and completely true facts. That is probably why people feel so strongly about pushing them into other people's faces. It's Truth! It's Reality! I Believe This, And It Is Therefore True, And Must Now Be True For You Also! Crusading IS irritating, isn't it? No matter how beautiful we look, with the Light of Righteousness beaming out of our heads...

28 November 2007


Originally uploaded by oferchrissake
I heard a lot at college about archival quality, durability of art works, and the expected lifespan of a work, and as a result of that, whenever I see a work of art, I think about how long it has lasted, and how long it will likely last into the future. I think about the artist's choice of materials, and about how the material choice influences the final result of the work.

The stone cherub pictured here, for instance, was probably carved in the 16th or 17th century, and may have been sitting in that spot for most of the intervening time (although I doubt that, since the castle courtyard around it has plainly been renovated at least twice in that interval.) I think... ok, four or five centuries isn't too shabby. The person who carved it probably didn't expect it to last that long. This all assumes it's not a cast replica of an original piece. I didn't actually poke at it long enough to even make an educated guess about that.

How long should art last? Does it lose relevance, with time? Does it gain worth over time? There is a certain mindset that holds endurance to be a desirable trait, but clearly a cherub doesn't mean the same thing now, as it might have at the time when this figure was carved or cast. Should a thing last until someone decides to smash it? Should it last until the artist can come up with something better? What if art were always ephemeral, like so much else in the universe? In a sense, it is, but I'm not trying to have that kind of philosophical inquiry right now.

Andy Goldsworthy seems to want his to last exactly as long as it takes to make good photos, unless of course he's having it mortared in place by professional stone masons. Harvey Fite, on the other hand, actually sculpted an abandoned stone quarry, turning it into a permanent, unmovable work of art entitled "Opus 40", which is now the name of the NPO that maintains it. Theoretically, performance art is the ultimate in ephemeral art, as it cannot exists beyond the memory of the last living person who saw it. Buster Keaton died a long time ago, but his art continues to exist, because we have film of it. When that's gone, Buster Keaton's art is gone.

Where is it all going? I don't know. I mostly just wanted to test the ability to post to this blog from my flickr account. The obvious age and sturdiness of this carved piece stands out as a stark contrast to some pieces I saw yesterday, from Kris Kuksi, which struck me as brilliant in many ways, with the Achilles heel of being made from materials that are notorious for lack of durability.

27 November 2007

Jesca Hoop

Floating my musical boat right now: Jesca Hoop's Seeds of Wonder.

Edit: For mysterious Internet Reasons, that link directly to the song isn't working. However, you can still go to her main page, click on Music, and then click on Seeds of Wonder from there.

Furnishing the Self — Upholstering the Soul

David Byrne has had some chairs made, to his unique specifications. The show is/was in DC and NYC, for those who can and would go and see what this man's remarkable brain produced, in the department of places to place your backside.
Macaroni Embroidery

His short commentary Why Chairs? is pretty interesting, and also details where the actual chairs are/were on display.

Welcome to the Logic-Go-Round

(An excerpt from a "customer discussion" on Amazon.com about why not to buy stuff on eBay or wherever that is being resold new by someone who bought it for the express purpose of reselling, ie, "flippers". Actually, it's a thoughtful and impassioned essay on the topic.)

For those who think the time of ebay buyers is more valuable than that of persons waiting in line, they should reconsider their definition of value. Because poorer people don't live as long as wealthier people, the life expectancy of those waiting in line behind flippers is shorter than the life expectancy of those served by flippers; therefore, time is actually more precious for those waiting in line behind the flippers. When time is evaluated in this way, flippers actually do more damage in this market than good. In other words, they are a drain on value.

26 November 2007

The Future

Here, not sorted outside of my own stream of consciousness, are some things I believe to belong to the realm of The Future. Obviously, I can't make real good predictions about *when* this stuff will happen, and I'm sure most of it will come around when I'm loooooong past the ability to say "I told you so!" That doesn't mean it won't happen. I probably got on this train of thought because of this BBC article about a new scanner that gets killer images inside the human body without nearly as much radiation.

Flying cars.
Intergalactic travel.
The cure for death.
Assisted suicide.
Media inputs direct to the human brain.
Living in space.
Submersion of most current coastal areas, and all of Florida.
The extinction of Sol.
The eventual extinction of the human race.
My own death.
Fully integrated cybernetic prosthesis.
Synthetic organs.
Ex utero gestation.
Metabolic calibration.
Abandonment of paper and books printed on paper.
Network systems that connect the thoughts of one person directly to the thoughts of another person.
Mandatory identification implants.
The cooling of the Earth's core.
Synthetic blood replacement.
Nano-bot medical procedures.
Nano-bot environmental clean up.
A la carte offspring trait selection.
A new model for government.
A true global economy.
At least two global pandemics.
Prenatal cancer.
Out of brain memory transfer & storage, and perhaps dream recording & playback.
Persuasive evidence that there is sentient life off this planet.
Discovery of the previously unknown disadvantages of genetic modification.
Medical cures for: obesity, addiction, diabetes, HIV, cancer, Alzheimer's
NO medical cure for: the common cold (this is a cheat, I don't think the common cold is *a* disease any more than AIDs is *a* disease).
Cloned dinosaurs.
An enormous asteroid striking the Earth and killing most of what's here now.
All the current major religions lapse into obscurity.
A means of genetically provoking humans to grow hair in vibrant colors, usually associated with birds and insects (blue, orange, true yellow and red, green...).

23 November 2007

What's out there?

My obsession with what's on the other side of a sturdy wall or door continues unabated. This sturdy wall or door belongs to Burg Lockenhaus, on the Austrian side of the border with Hungary. Knights Templar nested there, as did Elizabeth Bathory. Those odd birds laid all kind of crazy-eggs in their nest.

Sitting outside the castle, I had a moment of perspective vortex, where I could see the rolling hills and valleys of the region as the ocean, which I was in, and the sky was the surface of the water, which I was looking up into and through. It was a strangely secure feeling.

20 November 2007

Book Review Policy

I've been confronted with a lot of evidence that reading is on the wane, as a pleasure activity, as an educational activity, as an fixed element of modern enlightened life. This is a recurring nightmare over at Grad Student Madness, where the posts are generally of higher tone and better documented than my own. (I believe that may come as a direct result of reading, by the way. Rufus reads WAY more than I do, and I read somewhere in the too-much range.) After reading several articles about how The Young People Just Don't Like To Read (most recently, this one), and having experienced a shocking amount of groaning when adults enrolled in college were told read as many as one written page...

I started to wonder about book reviews. It is unwise for me to read a book, and then just tell people what's in it? Sure, it could pique someone's interest, but more likely (given the statistics) they'll just breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that it's one less tedious pile of irritating words they might avoid wading through. (Both the book, and the review.) Here's why:

When I worked at the bookstore, it was a regular occurrence to encounter folks who came rushing in, breathless, moments before the store closed, demanding the Cliff's Notes or... ah. That other thing, that isn't Cliff's Notes. Well, it doesn't matter now, because there are probably a dozen or so version of that idea, of clarifying and examining a text. The idea, I think, was to help folks who were having trouble getting on top of what they'd read. The Illiad is deeply mired in reference, fer cryin' out loud. To Kill A Mockingbird is complex shit, yo. The Sun Also Rises is... well. Nevermind what adjective I'd put on that one. Point is, sometimes when you read a thing, maybe you didn't quit apprehend the full significance. Enter the Cliff's Notes, or the Complete Idiot's Guide, or whatever. Maybe you're going to have to expound on Catcher In The Rye for your AP exam, and you want to rock it, and maybe your English class sucks.

But that's not how these guides are used. Instead, they're used to help the folks who haven't read the original text fake it satisfactorily in class, in the paper, in the exam. And now, the folks who discover that the library or bookstore doesn't have the study guide, who learned that some other jerk checked out the video store's only copy of the classic movie adapted from the book, are frantically rummaging the internet for synopsis and analysis. They're thoroughly boned, they're risking their A- average by getting called out on their complete and total failure to know anything at all about the title at hand.

Now we come around to the reason that I'm hesitant to write book reviews. I don't want any part of that. I admit, it's unlikely that I'm reading something that someone was supposed to have read but did not. I admit, it's unlikely that, in the random case that I have read and reviewed something that someone was supposed to have read, and did not. Hell, it's exceptionally unlikely that I have read and reviewed something that someone didn't read, and they somehow end up in my almost-totally-unread blog and read my review of it, and think they've learned something about the thing they didn't read. That's a lottery win long shot, right there. But I feel pretty certain that more non-readers who are searching the internet the night before their paper is due will read my book reviews, than other readers.

As a confirmed bibliophile, it's hard for me NOT to talk about things I'm reading. But it's often seemed to me that the people I'd like to talk with (other adults who have read the thing) are either non-existent or unavailable to me, or I'm too neurotic to connect with them. The other bibliophiles I do know well enough to talk intelligently with... don't read the same books I do, for the most part. Unless I force a book on one of them, or they on me.

Am I contributing to the problem, by not sharing my enthusiasm? Am I just being a bitter old wingnut, by believing that it's better to enjoy it by myself, than to have my experience corrupted and perverted? (In fact, it's unlikely that I would ever know if my book reviews were used in this way. The folks who skim the internet for clues in life are not going to be the ones giving authorial credit where it's due...)

I did join a few reading-group websites (like Shelfari, which displays my current reads at the bottom of this page, as well as GoodReads, and LibraryThing), to see about finding people to talk to about my books. I've been consistently disappointed with the discussions going on. The book I finished most recently has one, two-word review, which somehow manages to incorporate consonance, a pun, and two clichés. Argh! Another one has a few more words, but those words are "A nice sequel to the previous book." That's the entirety of the review. It's depressing, to be blunt. That's the best the bookworms can come up with?

So. Here's my book review policy. If I'm reading something, and someone asks me about it--anyone at all, in real life, one of my imaginary internet friends, the bookstore clerk, anyone--I'll review it. Otherwise, I'm probably not going to bother, unless it strikes a profound chord in me, and I just can't not write about it. Sometimes the spirit really is moved.

19 November 2007

More Scratchfile

Scratchfile is my word for "the stuff I do when I'm not trying to get something particular accomplished." I don't know if there is a proper, commonly known and used word for this? It means that I'm painting, or drawing, or writing, but not with a predetermined destination in mind. Here are more, it turns out Blogger only allows 5 images in a post.

In other creativity news, I've been writing every day this month on a novel. Well... it's the kernel of a novel. When I meet the goal of 50,000 words, I estimate I'll have about 2/3 of the plot structure for a good novel, 1/2 of the necessary number of characters (I'm really good with main characters, not great with supporting characters), and about 1/5 of the total number of words that would be necessary to eventually massage, edit, and cajole a thing into an actual novel. The plot isn't clear even to me, the characters are still trying to figure themselves out, and overall, I'll be doing the literary world a favor if I kill it at the end of the month. But I committed myself to this task for the Month of November, because of National Novel Writing Month, and because of my tendency to heap scorn on the bad writing that gets published as "literature."

I do not foresee actually having A Novel on my hands by 30th November, as in the thing you see on the cover of actual novels in bookstores: Some Kind of Pretentious or Obscurely Referential Title: A Novel by Me... kind of thing. But I am learning a lot about the novel writing process. If I don't delete it all on December 1st, but instead keep scratching at it in a persistent manner for another 6 months to 2 years, it could conceivably turn into a rough draft of a coherent novel.

I have always wondered why I can write, at length, about whatever comes into my head, but the idea of deliberately writing a novel intimidated me. Short stories aren't a real problem, but for some reason I've always felt that novels would be better, somehow. More complete? More... encompassing? I have always wondered what famous authors mean when they say that they discover what's going on as they write--I'd always imagined it to be a premeditated thing, mostly a matter of copying down a story that was in the head already. Definitely, my appreciation of authors who can work out enormous, long-range plots and worlds has grown immensely. The respect is quadrupled if it turns out that they have worked out a self-consistent imaginary universe in their subconscious and are, in fact, only writing down bits of it at a time, without serious planning.

Surely some writing has that premeditated, start from the end and work your way back to the beginning flavor about it, and I think I expected it to be that way for me because that's how visual art works for me. I see some materials, and realize that if I do this, and this, and that, by the time it's finished, if I've done it all well, I'll have .... the thing that was in my head. With this month's practice of sitting and writing every single morning for at least a little while, I'm beginning to see how the threads of ideas can come and go. I can see how the story changes as it flows. I can see how characters come and go, seemingly of their own volition, and it's just a matter of trying to keep up with their motivations and maneuvers. Also, I can see how authors often end up as depressed cranks, living alone, grumbling at the world to shut the hell up so they can concentrate, already. It might be a chicken and egg issue, but the path has become progressively plainer to me.

And, I can see that if I sat down and wrote every single day for the rest of my life, I *might* come up with a story worth publishing. It has been kind of horrifying to see how much of what I've written is a synthesis or correction-to-my-view of things others have written, and how much what I'm writing reveals about my own inclinations and prejudices. This is not to say that any of what's being revealed is particularly unexpected or news-worthy, because generally I'm pretty wide open about things. But it's so, so clear what my issues, ticks, and obsessions are. So, so transparent. This is probably why it's so popular for authors to work under pseudonyms. Your friends might be happy that you're a published author, but they might not really want to know what your fantasies actually are.


Here are some marks I made recently that made me happy. They're not compositions, they're not even definite objects. They're really, literally, just marks I made that felt satisfying. What point is there in making some other kind?

03 November 2007

Green Evening Stories

This morning I wandered into an archive of several chapters of a graphic novel. The illustrations are all ink and watercolor, which may go some distance toward explaining why I had to look at every single page, before I could look away. No, that's not true. The reason I couldn't look away is that the illustrations are simultaneously familiar and otherworldly. It was like visiting a dream I'd had before, only it wasn't my dream. Very moody, atmospheric. All in, it only took me about 10 minutes to click through all of the pages the author had posted, but I think if there had been 10 times as much, I would still be clicking the next button now, eating up the images.

The author says the series is on permanent temporary hiatus, because it just takes too damn long to produce each image. I can believe that, but it's also a bit sad. It definitely has an epic quality about it, the unmistakable sense of having just spotted the tip of the iceberg.

Green Evening Stories

Green Evening Stories

This morning I blundered into an archived graphic novel. I'd be hard pressed to say what it was about, in the traditional plot summary sense, but I can tell you that it was wonderfully illustrated by the author, in ink and watercolor. The author has apparently discontinued this series, because it's too time-consuming to produce. This is probably the crux of why writers and illustration teams work together to make graphic novels... anyway, I thought it was fantastic, because the scenes were highly evocative, familiar in an otherworldly way. Like visiting a dream you've had before. It took me maybe 10 minutes to skim through them (there is not much text, and I was in it for the illustrations anyway), but I was sort of startled to note that, had there been many, many more of them, I'd probably have read them all in one sitting anyway...

01 November 2007

Two Books I Finished Last Night

Gefährliche Geliebte. Last night, I read the last page of Gefährliche Geliebt, the German translation of Haruki Murakami's 7th novel, in English titled South of the Border, West of the Sun, and closed the book with satisfaction. I like it so much that I have read it before, and I don't doubt I'll read it again. However, I don't see any reason to summarize it here. If you're looking for a compelling read, go and get this book. It's sad, at times almost unbearably so, but it will almost surely make you feel better about your own life.

Stumbling on Happiness The other book I finished last night is Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. It's kind of the non-fiction version of the Murakami's thesis: a point by point rebuttal of the idea that happiness is attainable. Gilbert has assembled an astonishingly well-referenced theory about why it's so hard for people to plan themselves into a future they are satisfied with. He talks about the odd behaviors people consistently have, that always seem like a good idea at the time, but ultimately lead to dissatisfaction. Some of these are very interesting, such as the inability people apparently have, to correctly gauge their own reactions to events, and some intriguing examples of the long term effects of the notoriously inaccurate human memory.

This isn't a self-help book; it's not about How To Be Happy. This is simply an analysis of why it sometimes seems so freaking hard to be happy, no matter how much time you spend on it. The conclusion I have come to is that this undermining behavior is probably for the best. Dissatisfaction keeps us going, it gives us something to do after the thing we're doing now. And, besides that, actually being happy seems to be more a matter of actually noticing when that's going on, than it is about planning or execution of plans.

I do recommend this book if you're the kind of person who has wondered what the hell everyone's problem is, and why it's SO hard to just be content. This isn't necessarily the whole story, but it certainly is an interesting and fairly well-written part of it. My only complaint is that there were more than a few moments where I read a sentence or two, and thought, "My god, you ARE a smarmy bastard, aren't you?" I have nothing against smarmy bastards, of course, but when I'm reading a book, I'd rather be engaged with the book than the author, if you see what I mean.