02 January 2010

Erring on the side of "do"

I was just absorbed in reading thru all (or most) of my old posts, mostly as a way to avoid having to write a new one; but the task seems unavoidable: I don't know if it's seasonal, or cyclical, or what... It doesn't seem to happen on any sort of reliable, regular schedule, and it has failed, as yet, to become a self-reinforcing habit, but every so often, the urge to blog arises, "every so often, it feels like the reasons to write gain enough weight to tip the see-saw's end up out of its muddy wallow", as I wrote so long ago in one of the earliest of numerous posts bemoaning my posting infrequency, and yet, still, the see-saw refuses to continue rocking of its own accord...

Well, anyway, I've definitely been agitating for some action on this front--perhaps it's the turn of the new year, the season for resolving this, that and the other. The closest to a resolution I've been able to verbalize, is to err on the side of "doing".


I had some email exchange with my old friend Nicole, in Argentina, a while back. She'd just gotten broadband installed, and used her new high speed connectivity to "te invito a unirte" on Facebook. It sparked a lot of exploration about what purpose the web serves, or can serve, or threatens to serve, for me:
Aww, yee-ah! BROADBAND--FTW!! Cereal-ly: you'll wonder why anyone had even bothered with the internet before that! I'm trying to think of metaphors... "Dial-up" is like gleaning info from a leaky faucet: with enough time, you'll get a cup full, and that just might quench your thirst, hallelujah. However, one may or may not be interested to know that the faucet is piped in from a raging river, just outside the window, which can be... kinda scary: I mean, one can only drink so much water, and with so very much of it flowing past, after having weathered such a drought... Well, but see, you can also go swimming, which is hard to do in the leaky faucet. But then, too, you could drown! I don't know what that, uh... corresponds to, exactly, in this metaphor; but I think it's the same fear that keeps me off Facebook.

A few years ago, a couple of girlfriends built a MySpace page for the band I'm in with a couple of kids. They handed me the controls, and at about the same time, we got written up in a popular blog. Suddenly, I was besieged with all these friend requests, and got completely absorbed in the phenomenon for a few days. Gradually, the shallowness of the connections became apparent, and how easily the tool was commandeered by venal capitalist interests had me rethinking my involvement. Not long after, our drummer boy got involved in bitchy MySpace-message battles with other adolescents from Florida, and I began to feel like, "God, if we ever actually show up in Tampa Bay for some reason, am I gonna have to worry about the van's tires getting slashed by invisible net dweebs who don't think we're "punk" enough?" Of course, bitchy battles among adolescents weren't invented by the internet, but anyway... I came to regret my "lost weekend" of MySpacing.

The point is: although there's no direct connection between my old MySpace experience, and the way Facebook gets used, I have proven to myself a tendency to jump into raging rivers before checking that the tether is secured. That is to say, I'm short on discipline, and I can easily picture myself floating for day upon day on whatever it is that constitutes the Facebook current. So, I'm very gingerly dipping my toes in, with (a) blogging; then (b) not telling anyone about it for several years. I've only recently begun to let friends know I even keep a blog. And I'm still trying to figure out how it's serving me differently than by keeping a private handwritten journal. There is definitely a peculiar, piquant sort of energy around hitting the "publish" button. On the other hand, I feel somewhat like, if I thought more people-I-know were reading it, I'd be less likely to want to post to it... I'm taking a certain compromised comfort in anonymity. If I were completely comfortable about publishing, I'd probably be keen on having a Facebook page that would alert my "friends" to new posts as they arise; but as it is, I'm writing mostly for my own pleasure. I'm pretty trepidatious along the terrain of my public/private divide.

I was just skimming through an essay called The Age of the Informavore (because essays are about as long a form of continuous text through whose duration I can [barely] sustain interest, and skimming is what passes for reading in my state, by which I don't necessarily mean California), and came across this, which applies here:
It's the question: what is important, what is not important, what is important to know? Is this information important? Can we still decide what is important? And it starts with this absolutely normal, everyday news. But now you encounter, at least in Europe, a lot of people who think, what in my life is important, what isn't important, what is the information of my life. And some of them say, well, it's in Facebook. And others say, well, it's on my blog. And, apparently, for many people it's very hard to say it's somewhere in my life, in my lived life.
[emphasis mine]

[...]

Of course, compared to blogging, Facebook is a much more convenient and accessible two-way boulevard. I wonder at times, since I'm so prone to traipsing down paths in the web, link to link to link, mightn't I be better served to, y'know, open a conduit--sorta, back to the metaphor above, turn on the faucet of links from the interesting people I actually personally know (and/or could know better)? Yeah... I mean, what am I thinking? I'm already floating, untethered, down the river. I spend full days "surfing"... Am I capable of ignoring the bullshit quizzes and "personality tests" that clog the Facebook pipes? Damn it, I just don't know! Shall I face that questionable "danger" to gain access to... what, exactly? People's photo albums? The important thing may be simply that it can help me keep people I care about present in my awareness. Aw, God... then it becomes this endless algorithm about whether I care "enough" to friend so-and-so, and on and on. Cue head exploding. But maybe the head needs to explode! Can it be all that bad of a thing, to pay more mind to how I care for people I know? I mean, come on, Damon: pull your goddamned head out of your ass! Boom!

[...]

This morning, I read Dick Cavett's blog in the NYTimes. He often has interesting things to say (to which I've even referred in my own blog); today, wasn't especially provocative--an homily about judging people based on appearance, and how the proliferation of any one person's appearance is treated as a definition of fame. The only reason I mention it is, in the comments section, I followed a link to a few rants about Facebook's role in society, parts of which you might identify with. I also found it interesting that those rants are on Pandalous, a site that describes itself as "the social network for people who think"... They ask, "why tweet when you can roar?". I'm intrigued... and skeptical.

Intrigued and skeptical... funny--that's how I react to Twitter, too. I just don't get what it's for. I decided to sign up sometime last year, to see if I could figure out what use it could be for me, and I still haven't gotten there. Or, I should say, I hadn't gotten there until, possibly, this morning: before reading the Cavett blog, and picking this letter up again, something clicked for me. I thought about how, y'know, I'm kinda wordy. I just go on and on, and how the hell am I s'posed to fit something into 140 characters or less? It's ridiculous! It's like---oh.... Hey! It's like writing haiku! That can be challenging and rewarding, trying to fit a concise observation into such a confined space. So, I hammered out a bunch of haiku. Or "twaiku". I imagine "hammering out a bunch", defeats the point somehow, but whatever: it was fun. I can make a rule for myself: if I can't put it into a haiku, it's not worth tweeting. Of course, it's not like I'm having trouble finding things "not worth tweeting"... or better things to do with my time... but crafting poetry--I can see that feeling worthwhile...
Yeah, well... so, that's what I said then. Haven't tweeted much since. I have, however, recently written a sonnet! I was pretty excited about it, because it was almost completely accidental. I'd just read some of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, a re-write of The Big Lebowski in the language of Shakespeare, and I thought it might be fun to get together with some old acting class friends, to do a table reading (and presumably, nosh and drink). I started writing an email in iambic pentameter, and I think, by the 3rd line, it occurred to me to shoot for an A/B/A/B rhyme scheme. The word "sonnet" puts a picture in my head of Mrs. McMillion's middle school English class, which feels like the last time I had to know what a sonnet even is. Nonetheless, something about fourteen lines rung a bell, so when I ran out of things to say after twelve, I threw on another two meta-lines. Then, I wiki'd "sonnet", and found I'd hit the nail on the head:

Might any soul be keen to gather hence
And Two Gentlemen of Lebowski read aloud,
By which, one hopes, we might derive some sense,
It's viability for staging proud?
I'm keen, I must admit, to read "the Knave",
Yet I've an inkling he demands a type
More like that Rand... Would he the lead role have?

Christy as Maude? Indubitably hype!
Beyond that, names and faces I have known,
Breeze merrily across my psyche's sky.
(This pentametric effort makes me groan!)
Best cast ideas surely in your hands lie.
(I'm not sure what the rules are for a sonnet.
Have they ten lines and four? If so, I'm on it.
Granted, it's not quite the same as translating the entire movie's script into Elizabethan English, but slag off! I impressed myself. What of it?

I feel, now, like I'm back where I was up at the top, dithering around, and cutting-and-pasting, to avoid getting down to the point of this post, at its outset, to "err on the side of doing".

For the past few months, Deb and I have been enrolled in a group of people focussed on exploring and manifesting our own individual sense of purpose. It's the latest iteration of a group I was a member of a few years ago, then called Integral Life Practice, led by Jonathan Gustin, under the auspices of his Integral Awakening Center. A key part of the group's work, then as now, is maintaining a daily regimen of exercise and meditation, such that we're each giving attention to desired progress in the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives all at once--holistically.

And a key part of my behavioral response to the work, then as now, is to all but ignore the exercise and meditation, barely read the texts, and only occasionally set about to do some related journalling--which, itself, I always find rewarding, even as I refuse to do it any more often than I do. At the end of my previous year-long stint in this group, I left convinced that I'd done it only to give me another reason to feel badly about myself. This time, while I'm still steadfastly refusing to do any of the actual "practice", at the very least, I'm actively forgiving myself for my perpetual slack. My thinking behind this approach is a sort of reverse psychology: whatever part of me is that which refuses to do the work, is doing so to trigger guilt, which must be keeping me in line (in whatever way that part interprets "in line"). So, if I adopt a glass-half-full strategy, and feel good that I'm at least willfully taking part in regular conversations about mindful, meaningful living, and that whatever energy I'm expending in that direction is not spent on the road to dissolution and entropy... then, what's there to feel guilty about? Oh, sure--I can come up with a list, but my point here is this: the guilt, I think, is the goal of this part of me. If I can diminish the power of this tool to induce guilt, then I might not find it so appealing to refuse to work, to refuse to "do".

Of course, this is ultimately a bunch of mind play, which is exactly the sort of thing that practice might aim to take me out of, since remaining trapped in the life of the mind, the prevalent human state of being, is precisely what we, in this work, strive to overcome.

So, I've thrown a few words together, in the time-tested ruse of a new year's resolution, to "err on the side of doing"...

Well, I guess I'm keeping kinda busy, what with the sonnets and all...

Actually, I'm lately making some of what might pass for "art": the kids at the sign shop have been agitating to get our work into a gallery space, and Jeff made it happen through his girlfriend, Devon, who curates the backroom gallery at Adobe Books. So, now we're all scrambling to make a bunch of signs to cover those walls. I'm grateful it's a small space, but I'm also grateful to step, at least briefly, back into the mindset I had way, way back in art school, that "I'm making pretty things that have no purpose whatsoever, beyond looking good". I'm kinda glad to have encouragement to keep a hand in the absurd.

Opening March 12

(Jeff painted the postcard.)

Also, just after we got that all set up, I got an email from Dad, requesting "a piece" to put in a Cecil County Arts Council show, of art made by families. He and Mom and Wendi all have stuff going in, and would I send something? By February 1?

The deadline inspired me to crank out something I'd been thinking about doing for some time: I saw an online gallery of paper art. I particularly enjoyed Simon Schubert's crafty gimmick of creasing paper, and photographing it in such light that the creases illuminate the architectural details of various rooms, stairwells, buildings, and landscapes. Those pieces, in turn, reminded me of the work my old apprentice, Tauba, had done recently, showing huge prints of half-tone dot patterns representing crumpled sheets of paper. Seeing those at SFMOMA, I was really excited by their shimmering optical effect, of seeming to move forward or back from the flat printed space. I could stare at that stuff for a long time. I'd like to have one, but Tauba's a bit outside my budget (she's prob'ly about as close as I've ever come to feeling proud about "my child all growed up and making good in the world", as small a part as I've played in her artistic development). So, I thought, "Shit, I could make that stuff myself! I got Photoshop! I can enlarge!". Then, I became perhaps inordinately fond of the lame pun of accessing a 2nd story above our ceiling, and under the peaked roof of our humble shack, by mounting a picture of a staircase on the wall. I took a screen snap of one of Schubert's crumpled paper stairwells, half-tonified it to my liking, vectorized the pattern, and printed the outlines on the giant plotter I have at the sign shop. Somewhat to my dismay, it took the lightning-fast plotter about five hours to trace the whole thing, with a pen, onto a 40" x 60" piece of craft paper. By this, I knew I had weeks of work ahead, a spare hour or so at a time, to color inside the lines with poster paint. But hey--I erred on the side of doing! Assuming it doesn't get screwed up in transit, whenever the show is over, I s'pose I'll get a 2nd story for the house:

My favorite part of this is that, despite the half-tone processing, and despite the inaccuracies of hand-painting the fills, I can still make out the outlines of the panes of glass in the window at the top of the stairs.

My second favorite part is how heavily it leans on other people's ideas, incorporates digital reproduction, and raises questions about copyright; while at the same time being hand painted, representing many hours of my own labor, and will finally be wall-papered into my own home, not for sale.

I guess, into that second part, is incorporated the fact that I did something, rather than just theorizing and imagining it. If fact, I did a lot less theorizing and imagining than I did actual producing, in this instance.

So, that's an auspicious start to the new year, although I have to admit that, despite the 2 Jan date on this post, I haven't hit "publish" yet, and it's already 7 Feb.

And now it's a few minutes shy of 3 Mar, and I think I might actually press the button.

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