Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Internet: A Warning From History

"I lost eleven years of my life to the internet, looking at pictures of cats."

Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Will Riker turns everyone on to this game he was introduced to on Risa and no one can stop playing it and it turns out the game is part of an alien race's secret plot to take over the Enterprise? I have often wondered how much of our world's current fascination with the world wide web is a case of life imitating art--sure, we all think the internet is safe, but often, doesn't it feel like just a giant TIME SUCK? And it is all well and good to say "step away and read a good book," but three hours later, you are still staring at the screen, reading about the Kurgan Hypothesis (which you stumbled upon eventually after hours of clicking through various articles which originated with the one I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph). The aliens won't even need to park their spaceships over our cities at this rate. Menacing is so last century, don't you think?

Also, I love the meta ending.

Sweet Caroline

I once knew a guy who said that there were two types of people in the world: people who loved Neil Diamond and people who just didn't know enough about Neil Diamond.

According to the Red Sox radio announcers, Neil Diamond showed up at Fenway Park yesterday and asked if he could lead the crown in a sing along. If I didn't already fall in the category of people who love Neil Diamond (in both a serious and an ironic way, there are many layers to my love), this would do it.

I'll admit, I was bit stunned that with the gray hair and beard no longer looks anything like Count Von Count (not that he ever really did anywhere outside of my head--Neil Diamond does not have purple skin, and I don't think I have ever seen him in evening wear as he is on record as being forever in blue jeans).

There Is Power In A Union- Take 2

Second semester of freshman year, I took a history class called Culture and Society in Twentieth Century America. It was taught by a professor who did not receive tenure at my school, so as it turned out, I was lucky to take the class not only because I was a freshman taking an upper level history course, but because he left after that semester to teach at a school which did offer him tenure (alas, the cruelty of academia). But really, I was lucky because it was an amazing class which continues to influence how I understand the world. Had this professor stayed at Reed, I am fairly sure I would have ditched my interest in Japanese history and written a thesis in American studies. Maybe (remember, it was my interest in Japanese theatre which led me to Japanese history. It is possible my trajectory would have remained the same. Or maybe I would have stayed in theatre).

At one point in the class, he asked us how many of us had a parent a trade union. I only remember two people (in a class of 30) raising their hands and one of them was an exchange student from England. It was a powerful illustration of not only who ends up at expensive private schools in America, but the state of unions at the end of the last century. And it feels like things have only gotten worse since then.

I mention this because it is something I think about in relation to Julian. Despite being a child of the "professional class", despite his privilege, he will be able to raise his hand and say, "yes, my mom is a proud union member." He also will be able to say that his first concert was Billy Bragg when he was seven (though he grumbled and slept through it).

So, yeah, I was really excited that Billy Bragg signed my union card!

This post is over a week old, but I failed to post it until now. Oops.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Life Imitates a Jane Smiley Novel

Officer Corral Loose Pig in Greensboro

"Neither the animal control officers nor a Greensboro police officer who also responded knew where the pig came from"

People, if there is one thing that literature has taught us it is that the hog which appears suddenly on your lawn is probably the escaped test subject from a secret project conducted by a rogue professor at the local university.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Good Bye Green Honda

For nearly 18 years, this is what I saw in the morning.

At least, it is what I saw on the mornings when I drove.

For years, people asked when I planned to get a new car. "Never," I would tell them. "This car will be pried from my cold dead hands," I would say, and then, reconsidering what I was implying, "I mean, I expect it to die in the garage, peacefully, in its sleep." Of course, I said that when it was in great condition, when the people doing the asking were the guys at the Honda dealership, begging me to sell it to them. I ignored the scrapes and scratches, the dents and rust, because it still looked super luxe after a car wash in spite of it all, at least it did to me. However, over the course of the past year, all the previous years seemed to make themselves known. The mechanics at the dealership were no longer asking for right of first refusal, they were asking how much money I realistically wanted to put into the car for "unnecessary" repairs. 

We hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. We just thought we were going to test drive some cars and look at a used car that was crazy low priced, but we never planned to part with our car there and then. I told people that there was no way we were buying a car on Saturday and they smirked at my naivete. We had never been in a car dealership before and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

So, as it turns out, we gave up the car before it gave up on us. Put that way, I feel incredibly disloyal. However, it was a decision had to make, if not on Saturday then someday, and it was good to let it go while it still had some life left in it. We hope it will make someone else extremely happy. 

Friday, April 05, 2013


I once told a friend of a friend that just as I liked New Order more than Joy Division, I like the Foo Fighters more than Nirvana. It isn't true, of course, but I said it because the guy was tedious and I wanted to say something terribly outre which would make him go talk to someone else. It is amusing that that was what I came up with as it didn't succeed in getting the guy to go away, it just made him more condescending and pretentious. I really should have gone for broke and said I preferred Wings to The Beatles, but I didn't think of it and, besides, I am not sure I could have pulled that off as there are limits to my acting abilities. Had I been more interested in conversation, I probably would have said what I really feel, which is that while comparisons are understandable, it seems not only unfair, but somewhat dishonest, to place these bands next to one another. It seems like something we do to elevate one person's genius at the expense of another and, often, there is the unspoken critique of the later band for "selling out." As if the original band, or at least the genius of the band, was completely uninterested in success, that they lived for their art alone and their subsequent deaths are proof that they were too good for this world. It denies the reality that a rock band, when it works, is more than the sum of its parts and a reflection of its time and place. It denies the role serendipity plays when a piece of at, be it a song or a ballet or a film, becomes the agent of cultural change. Worst of all, it denies the notion that the other members of a band may want to have an artistic life beyond that one moment, suggesting that after the original group disbands they should never have the audacity to create more art (so if they do, it is by default, less good).

Having said all that, I don't really care for most of the songs by the Foo Fighters that I have heard. I mean, they aren't bad, but they don't hit me in my solar plexus and make me briefly forget to breathe.

Except this one.

This song, for me, captures that jumping off a cliff and not caring how hard the ground will smack you abandon that one feels when they are in the early stages of a relationship, when infatuation and lust are at their peak and everything that other person says or does is a revelation, when you would swear your heartbeat is in sync with that one other person's. "Breathe out so I can breath you in"has to be one of the most achingly true romantic lines ever to appear in a post-punk song. It was the hook which drew me in as it perfectly captures that moment when you are so close you inhale the exhalations of another and realize how singular and individual the interior of one's lungs is.

Which is also kindof exactly the way it feels in an artistic collaboration when everything clicks into place. 

So when I read that every human has a "breathprint" I immediately thought of this song. In particular, the fact though the exact composition of a person's breath changes day to day, "these variations were still well within each person's very distinct "core" breathprint."

Don't you love it when science confirms what our hearts and our art have been saying all along?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

RIP Roger Ebert

"I know death is coming and I do not fear it. I was perfectly content before I was born and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting."-Roger Ebert

"Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you."-Roger Ebert

"You can only find out about yourself by learning about others."-Roger Ebert

"'Kindness' covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out." -Roger Ebert

I had expected to write something else today, but in light of the news that the world has lost one of its great critics, there are no words. There are some people who you just assume will always be part of the landscape, will always be around to weigh in, will always be there to teach by example, about writing, about life, about grace, and when they leave this earth, one is unprepared for the void that is left.

He loved art. He loved ideas. He loved language. He was a passionate fan and a discerning viewer. He demonstrated the important role the critic plays in the creation of art (because if a tree falls in a forest, it isn't enough that people hear it, someone has to be there to comment on the quality of the sound it makes).

His leave of presence is now a permanent leave of absence. Though we have still all his reviews and writings, the world of thought and words is poorer.