Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Silence

Over all the hilltops
Silence,
Among all the treetops
You feel hardly
A breath moving.
The birds fall silent in the woods.
Simply wait! Soon
You too will be silent.

- Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Monday, December 25, 2006

How It Is with Want

"However he had managed it, the crisis was over. Our larder was full again, and we no longer stood up from meals craving more, no longer moaned about our gurgling bellies. You'd think this turnaround would have earned our undying gratitude, but the fact was that we quickly learned to take it for granted. Within ten days, it seemed perfectly normal that we should be eating well, and by the end of the month it was hard to remember the days when we hadn't. That's how it is with want. As long as you lack something, you yearn for it without cease. If only I could have that one thing, you tell yourself, all my problems would be solved. But once you get it, once the object of your desires is thrust into your hands, it begins to lose its charm. Other wants assert themselves, other desires make themselves felt, and bit by bit you discover that you're right back where you started."

- Paul Auster, Mr. Vertigo

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Modern Navel Gazing

My daughter and I wandered around an athletic shoe store last night as we finished up our Christmas shopping. Of the thousands of shoes on display, the one or two she was interested in were not available in her size. Even the pair she settled on fell into a puzzling gray area between too small and too large. Two young women continued their discussion of the various scheduling and employee discount policies of other stores in the mall as we approached the cash register. Neither of them ever made eye contact with us.

As the younger woman rang us up, she called out to a male employee who had just come around the counter. “Hey, how does this look?”

She lifted up the front of her shirt to reveal her bright pink belly button jewelry with several parts all mysteriously held in place and dangling from the canvas of her skin.

“Looks good,” the guy told her. “Where’d you get it?”

“Hot Topic,” she said, suggesting that she worked it in over her break. “I used to have a martini glass, but I lost my olive.”

A previous generation aspired to play out what they’d seen on movie screens, my generation remains alert for opportunities to use the smart ass humor we grew up with watching sitcoms, while the current generation is busy acting out millions of personal reality shows. Innuendo and sugar-coated romance have retired to a gated community in Florida, sarcasm is still fighting to make a painfully honest living, and the navels we gaze at now belong to strangers.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

To Study the Self is to Forget the Self

Quotes from Eihei Dogen, one of the founders of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism:

Although we say that mountains belong to the country, actually, they belong to those who love them.

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined the other side is dark.

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mind the Gap

"You know marriage and kids, it’s wonderful, but it doesn’t give you meaning. I mean it gives you an imperative, but it doesn’t help you. My father always used to say -- you know in the tube -- ‘Mind the gap.’ I don’t know, it’s just the distance between life as you dream it and life as it is."

- Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

From Jonathan Carroll's blog today (it reminds me of the Secret Santa I read about yesterday, the poem Jorie Graham read on KCRW, and - much less poetically - an article on the etiquette of regifting I read this morning):

"Every year at this time a friend goes a little crazy and bakes hundreds of Christmas cookies which she then gives away to friends and co-workers. Each person gets a box of them that must weigh four pounds. Even if you're a Christmas cookie fanatic, it takes weeks to eat all of them. I got my stash earlier today. Carrying it home under my arm, I bumped into a really raggedy street person who looked like he hadn't had a merry Christmas in one hell of a long time. He asked for money. Instead I spontaneously offered him the box of cookies. He snatched it out of my hands and looked it over suspiciously, as if it were a joke or a ticking bomb ready to go off in his face. Satisfied that it was okay, the man asked shyly if he could open it. Then he asked what was inside. Before I could answer, he saw the mound of cookies in there and his face transformed. Cookies! he said, almost groaning. Cookies, cookies, cookies. He wouldn't stop saying that word as he reached in, grabbed a handful and ate them all at once."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Secret Santa

"I see the smiles and looks of hopelessness turn to looks of hope in an instant," he says. "After all, isn't that what we were put here on Earth for — to help one another?"

- Larry Stewart, a Missouri businessman who has given about $1.3 million over the year, usually by handing cash to random strangers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Father and Daughter

"Father and Daughter is a film about longing, the kind of longing which quietly, yet totally, affects our lives." - Michael Dudok de Wit (Script, Design and Animation)

Michael Dudok de Wit was born in 1953 and educated in Holland. In 1978, he graduated from the West Surrey College of Art in England with his first film The Interview. After working for a year in Barcelona, he settled in London where he directs and animates award-winning commercials for television and cinema. In 1992, he created the short film Tom Sweep, followed by The Monk and the Fish (1994), which was made in France with the studio Folimage. This film was nominated for an Oscar and has won numerous prizes including a César and the Cartoon d'Or. Michael also illustrates books and teaches animation at art colleges in England and abroad.

Fifteen minute film on UK Teacher TV program of Michael Dudok de Wit discussing the work that went into The Monk and the Fish.

Filmography: Tom Sweep (1992); The Monk and the Fish (1994); Father and Daughter (2000)


Running Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds
Year of Release: 2000
Production: Cloudrunner Ltd, UK, and CineTe Filmproductie bv, Holland
Techniques: Pencil, charcoal and software application ANIMO
Other Contributors: Normand Roger (Composer), Claire Jennings and Willem Thijssen (Producers), Arjan Wilschut (Main Co-Animator), Jean-Baptiste Roger (Sound), and Alistair Becket and Nic Gill (Technical Directors)
Awards include: Independent Film Award, Ottawa International Animation Festival, 2000; Grand Prize, Cinanima Animation Festival, 2000; Grand Prix Narrative Films, Holland Animation Film Festival, 2000; and Best International Animated Film, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, 2001

The Carpet-Laying Theory

“I’m not a structured writer. I have the carpet-laying theory which is you put it out there until there is a lump and you keep pushing the lump across the floor until the whole thing just lies flat. Every time you write there is going to be a bulge, something doesn’t work and you have to find your way to get it to the other end.”

Bruce Joel Rubin

"...whether there is anything inside me that I have not yet unpacked."

I found this delicious little biography of Quentin Crisp, as well as the quotes, on a site called Byzant Mystical.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) was a writer, actor and individualist, born Denis Pratt on Christmas Day 1908 in Carshalton, Surrey, England. He was educated at a boarding school in Derbyshire that he described as 'a cross between a monastery and a prison'. He went to live in London in the 1920's, changed his name and found work as a book designer and art-school model. His openly effeminate appearance and manner during a time when homosexuality was still illegal led to frequent abuse and beatings, and this life was described in his 1968 autobiography, 'The Naked Civil Servant'. It sold only 3500 copies, but a 1976 television film based on the book and starring John Hurt brought instant celebrity to Crisp, then 68. Acting on stage and film followed, along with further best-selling books, including his New York diaries, 'Resident Alien'. He was renowned for his wit, flamboyance and eccentricity, describing himself as 'one of the great stately homos of England', and in 1982 he moved to a cluttered bedsit on Manhattan's Lower East Side where he lived 'in the profession of being'. He died at 90 in, incongruously, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England on 21 November 1999, before the start of a one-man tour. When he was once asked what he would like in his obituary, he replied, "Mr. Crisp thanks the world for letting him stay so long."

  • I neither look forward, where there is doubt, nor backward, where there is regret; I look inward and ask myself not if there is anything out in the world that I want and had better grab quickly before nightfall, but whether there is anything inside me that I have not yet unpacked. I want to be certain that, before I fold my hands and step into my coffin, what little I can do and say and be is completed.

  • It's no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.' By then, pigs will be your style.

  • No one is boring who will tell the truth about himself.

  • Politics are not an instrument for effecting social change; they are the art of making the inevitable appear to be a matter of wise human choice.

  • What many men feel convention is preventing them from expressing may not be some hideous piratical urge to rape or homicide, but the feminine side of their natures.

  • On a day like today, I don't go out at all, and then I can remain wrapped in a filthy dressing gown, doing absolutely nothing. And someone said, "I don't think you should say that. Couldn't you say you meditate?" So I meditate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Can be Absent

Michael Silverblatt talked in March 2006 with Jorie Graham about her work on KCRW's Bookworm. I was startled by her articulate and logical yet passionate way of describing the challenge of attempting to remaining awake to the present.


This is what is wrong: we, only we, the humans, can retreat from ourselves and
not be
altogether here.
We can be part full, only part, and not die. We can be in and out of here, now,
at once, and not die. The little song, the little river, has banks. We can pull up
and sit on the banks. We can pull back
from the being of our bodies, we can live in a
portion of them, we can be absent, no one can tell.

- Jorie Graham, "Other," from Overlord (HarperCollins, 2005)

Oblivious to the Present

"Children are often envied for their supposed imaginations, but the truth is that adults imagine things far more often than children do. Most adults...wander the world deliberately blind, living only inside their heads, in their fantasies, in their memories and worries, oblivious to the present, only aware of the past or future...Imagination can be a beautiful thing, but it's also a trap. The wisest people are those who use their imaginations when they are children, and then learn to see the actual as adults."


Marc Chagall, Study for "Over Vitebsk", 1914, oil on canvas.
Photo: Private collection, St. Petersburg. © 2001


"It is a great injustice that those who die are often people we know, while those who are born are people we don't know at all. We name children after the dead in the dim hope that they will resemble them, pretending to blunt the loss of the person we knew while struggling to make the person we don't know into less of a stranger. It's compelling, this idea that the new person is so tightly bound to the old, but most of us are afraid to believe it. But what if we are right? Not that the new person is the reincarnation of the old, but rather, more subtly, that they know each other, that the already-weres and the not-yets of our world, the mortals and the natals, are bound together somewhere just past where we can see, in a knot of eternal life."


- Dara Horn, The World to Come

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Steady Loss of Sharpness

“Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life -- its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness -- conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.”

Susan Sontag

Damien Rice in Concert

Damien Rice performing from WXPN and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on Dec. 15, 2006.

"Rice grew up in Ireland, where he was inspired by music and painting from an early age. Once a member of the moderately successful Irish indie-rock group Juniper, Rice left the band to wander around Europe for a year before returning to Ireland to pursue a solo career. He scraped together a demo, which was discovered by David Arnold, a producer for the likes of Björk and Paul Oakenfold." - NPR's Live Fridays

"His two immaculately produced albums, 2004's magnificent O and the new 9, sound plenty grandiose, but it's artistic rather than commercial ambition that seems to drive their dense and sometimes difficult songs." - NPR's Song of the Day

www.damienrice.com

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We Must Love Them Both

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it.”

Thomas Aquinas

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

In this small collection of essays, Doris Lessing considers the challenges involved in thinking and acting independently amid and the powerful pressures to fit into groups—friends, family, work, church, clubs, neighborhoods, political parties, national governments, etcetera.

"We are group animals still, and there is nothing wrong with that. But what is dangerous is not the belonging to a group, or groups, but not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us."

I never get tired of reading about and discussing the concept of groupthink, or group mind, as this author calls it. I see it as one of the most important issues in our lives: negotiating the balance between personal freedom and the common good. This requires objectivity which is challenging enough for us as individuals and daunting for large, complex groups.

"I think when people look back at our time, they will be amazed at one thing more than any other. It is this—that we do know more about ourselves now than people did in the past, but that very little of this knowledge has been put into effect."

It also takes objectivity to see that our situation is not hopeless.

"This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and do not notice—or if we notice, belittle—equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short of reason, sanity and civilization."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Wisdom of No Escape

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what the world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing."

- Pema Chödrön, from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness

Monday, December 11, 2006

Audubon on Viagra

Walton Ford was born in 1960 in Larchmont, New York. Ford graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with the intention of becoming a filmmaker, but later adapted his talents as a storyteller to his unique style of large-scale watercolor. Blending depictions of natural history with political commentary, Ford’s meticulous paintings satirize the history of colonialism and the continuing impact of slavery and other forms of political oppression on today’s social and environmental landscape. Each painting is as much a tutorial in flora and fauna as it is as a scathing indictment of the wrongs committed by nineteenth-century industrialists or, locating the work in the present, contemporary American consumer society. An enthusiast of the watercolors of John James Audubon, Ford celebrates the myth surrounding the renowned naturalist-painter while simultaneously repositioning him as an infamous anti-hero who, in reality, killed more animals than he ever painted.” - art:21

From the description of Sensations of an Infant Heart, Brooklyn Museum:

When John James Audubon was a young boy, his stepmother’s pet monkey strangled Audubon’s favorite pet parrot. The monkey was kept chained after the incident. Later Audubon would write that the “sensations of my infant heart at this cruel sight were agony to me” and that the painful memory may have been one of the reasons he painted birds.

Interviews:

Friday, December 08, 2006

We're So Comfortable that We're Miserable

I think Western culture has things backwards. We equate comfort with happiness, and now we’re so comfortable that we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our life, no sense of adventure. I’ve found that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain and I’m struggling for high achievement. In that struggle, I think there’s a magic.

Unless you’re pushing yourself, you’re not living to the fullest. You can’t be afraid to fail, but unless you fail, you haven’t pushed hard enough. If you look at successful people and happy people, they fail a lot, because they’re constantly trying to go further and expand.

- Dean Karnazes, 44-year-old ultrarunner and six-time winner of the 199-mile Saturn Relay Ultra (and the first and only person to run a marathon to the South Pole in running shoes) writing in Outside January 2007.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Underwhelmed by It All

Results from this poll indicates that perennial boredom among teenagers persists in spite of the overabundance of options they have for amusing themselves:

A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Readers are Dead

From the BOOKFORUM interview with Gore Vidal:

BF: You write in Point to Point Navigation that you were once a "famous novelist," by which you don't mean you've stopped writing novels. You say, "To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer."

GV: Yes. There's no such thing as a famous novelist.

BF: But what about a writer like Salman Rushdie?

GV: He's moderately well known, but he's not read by a large public. He's very good, but "famous" has nothing to do with being good or bad.

BF: A few critics have declared the American novel dead.

GV: I don't think the novel is dead. I think the readers are dead. The novel doesn't interest anybody, and that's largely because there are no famous novelists. Fame means that you are touching everybody or potentially touching everybody with what you've done—that they like to think about it and talk about it and exchange views on it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Technology vs. Nature

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates between 4 and 50 million bird deaths are caused each year by the country's 105,000 communication (cell phone, television) towers.

"During bad weather, birds can mistake tower lights for the stars they use to navigate. They will circle a tower as if in a trance, often until they crash into the structure, its guy wires or other birds. Sometimes disoriented birds simply plummet to the ground from exhaustion. The fatally hypnotic effect of warning beacons on birds is not a new phenomenon; early lighthouses attracted swarms of birds. But as towers proliferate to accommodate an ever-growing number of mobile phones and other devices, conservationists say bird deaths are climbing."

- Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27, 2006

Confession

"People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, December 01, 2006

Poetry in the Forecast

The weather is all over the map in Columbus today. It began with a cold drizzle and by mid-morning the clouds started to break up setting the stage for a bright afternoon. But the clouds regrouped and now the backdrop is completely gray. The temperature is dropping. I watched the wind marshal battalions of leaves into the streets. It seemed to defy the laws of nature that the same wind could animate every other line into charging in opposite directions. The bare trees looked down helplessly and struggled to keep their balance.

In search of some meaning, I turned to the forecast which only offered poetry for the coming days: a few showers from time to time, winds could occasionally gust, clouds and sun mixed in the morning, generally clear skies with a few passing clouds. My favorite line, for Sunday: times of sun and clouds. It all sounds so gentle, but through the window it looks so stark. The wind that is blowing is the kind that makes your bones cold.

This is nothing compared to what the Internet says is happening in other Midwestern cities: sleet, snow, freezing rain, thousands of people without power.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stirring Performance

A twig of a man sang as he stirred a stream of honey into his tea. His eyes darted around the café and then back to his spoon and steaming paper cup. A great deal of effort went into conveying the absence of self-consciousness. His skinny jeans looked roomy on him. They were rolled into broad cuffs floating just above unlaced black boots. A Burberry plaid ball cap was stuffed into his back pocket and an old thermal shirt spilled out from a tight denim jacket. There was a red bandana tied around his neck.

I tried to make out the lyrics or melody of his song to discern whether he was a manic musician or just manic, but the café chatter and the milk frothing machine drowned out the details. Then he struck up a conversation with a woman pouring cream into her coffee. His voice was deep and there was nothing unusual at all about the even volley of their brief chat. They walked out together, exchanging first names, but I could see how the internal music fueled the delicate and lively movement of his gait, his empty hand held out in front of him like a ballerina’s.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fidelity

Regina Spektor

You're a Bittersweet Classic, Charlie Brown

I heard this great piece on NPR this morning about how A Charlie Brown Christmas almost never made it on the air for the first time in 1965. CBS thought that the jazz didn't mix well with traditional carols, that the voices should be provided by professional child actors, and that the tone and themes were too heavy for kids. It turned out that half of the people watching television across the country that night tuned in to watch.

The composer of the soundtrack, Vince Guaraldi, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976. "He was found in a room at the Red Cottage Inn hotel, relaxing between sets at Butterfield's nightclub in Menlo Park, California. Guaraldi had just finished recording the soundtrack for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown earlier that afternoon."

He wasn't around to discover that his music had become modern Christmas classics. A remastered edition of the soundtrack, which has never been out of print, has been released this year.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What's Worth Saving


"[The] question of what's worth saving determines what paintings hang in museums, and I think it also determines a great deal of what our own lives look like. It seems like a vast cultural decision, the casting away of one artist and the canonizing of another, but it actually begins as a very personal choice, when we each privately decide what's worth reading, seeing, remembering, and keeping. And it is only those things that we choose to keep that are allowed to extend across generations and survive us. This is true for works of art, but I think it is also true for every element of our private lives — and it is this choice of what's worth saving that connects us to other people, and becomes the only real link between the living and the dead."

- Dara Horn, from an essay about writing her novel, The World to Come. Listen to her discuss the novel with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm (April 20, 2006).

Not What, but Who

James Baldwin, speaking with Terry Gross on Writers Speak:

The homosexual question is tied up with the whole American idea of masculinity: the whole infantile idea (according to me) and absolutely untrue. To be a man is much more various than the American myth has it. As I myself have lived and I have observed, love is where you find it. Your maturity, I think, is signaled by the depth or extent to which you can accept the dangers and the power and the beauty of love.

...Before I left this country, I had been afflicted with so many labels that I had become invisible to myself. I had to go away to some place to get rid of all these labels and find out not what I was, but who.

...it was a very simple matter for me to say to myself, I’m going this way and only death will stop me, and I’m going to live my life, the only life I have, in the sight of God.

The Artist's Job

"[The artist's] job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form."


- Constantin Stanislavsky, An Actor Prepares

Friday, November 24, 2006

Multitudes

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


Thursday, November 23, 2006

There's Diversity Within Me

Whoever you may be, when you behold
This odd, misshapen picture which is me
And there is laughter on your lips
Your eyes are flashing with hilarity,
And your whole face is seized by mirth
As you discover yet another monstrous detail
In him who bears the name Vertumnus,
Being thus called in poems of the ancients
And by Apollo’s learned sons;
Unless you clearly see that ugliness
Which makes me beautiful,
You cannot know that there’s a certain
Ugliness more beautiful than any beauty.

There’s diversity within me,
Though despite my diverse aspect, I am one.

That diversity of mine
Renders faithfully and truly
Diverse things just as they are.
Raise your eyebrows now and frown,
Listen hard with concentration,
Lend your ear to what I say
That I may entrust you, friend,
With the secret of new art.

Excerpt from Don Gregorio Comanini’s poem on the Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting of Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of vegitationa and transformation. The portrait was a gift to the emperor after Acrimboldo left Prague to return to his native Milan in 1587.

Barriers

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Imagining Happiness

From Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
by Matthieu Ricard

To imagine happiness as the achievement of all our wishes and passions is to confuse the legitimate aspiration to inner fulfillment with a utopia that inevitably leads to frustration.

In affirming that "happiness is the satisfaction of all our desires" in all their "multiplicity," "degree," and "duration," Kant dismisses it from the outset to the realm of the unachievable. When he insists that happiness is the condition of one for whom "everything goes according to his wish and will" we have to wonder about the mystery whereby anything might go according to our wishes and will.

Even if, ideally, the satisfaction of all our desires were achievable, it would lead not to happiness but in the creation of new desires or, just as likely, to indifference, disgust, or even depression. Why depression? If we were to convince ourselves that satisfying all our whims would make us happy, the collapse of that delusion would make us doubt the very existence of happiness.

If I have more than I could possibly need and I am still not happy, happiness must be impossible. That's a good example of how far we can go in fooling ourselves about the causes of happiness. The fact is that without inner peace and wisdom, we have nothing we need to be happy.

The Influence of Strangers

“Tennessee [Williams] didn’t fit comfortably into his own minority, so I had the confidence not to fit either.”


– John Waters, The New York Times (11/17)
Book Review Podcast: An Interview with John Waters

Face Blindness

“They can see your eyes, your nose, your mouth – and still not recognize your face. Now scientists say people with prosopagnosia may help unlock some of the deepest mysteries of the brain.”

- Joshua Davis, writing about prosopagnosia or “face blindness” in Wired

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Tearless and Unblinking Distance

"The difference between a cult and faith is time. I believe that we are a single organism, and that something is at stake in this particular moment...We are going to be doing a story that is on HBO and there are these endearing characters. It is about surfing, but some of the characters levitate...Ostensibly it is about a family of surfers who seem to have become more and more disassociated from themselves and from good surfing. They were all champions, and they are in one way or another alienated, loaded and ascetic...And then a strange guy comes into their life: John from Cincinnati."

"...the look of the show...was informed not by Martin Scorcese or MTV, but by his mentor Robert Penn Warren."

“Have you ever seen moonlight on the Wabash as the diesel rigs boom by? Have you ever wondered how the moonlit continent might look through the tearless and unblinking distance of God’s wide eye,” he quoted Warren over the phone. “I have been working to make sure that the camera is stationed at a tearless and unblinking distance.”

- David Milch discussing his new television series John from Cincinnati with David Carr from The New York Times (11/20/2006)

Iraq in Fragments

"Iraq in Fragments illuminates post-war Iraq in three acts, building a vivid picture of a country pulled in different directions by religion and ethnicity. Filmed in verité style, with no scripted narration, the film power fully explores the lives of ordinary Iraqis: people whose thoughts, beliefs, aspirations, and concerns are at once personal and illustrative of larger issues in Iraq today." (Typecast Pictures)

  • "From 300 hours of material, Mr. Longley has created a collage of images, sounds and characters, an intimate, partial portrait of an unraveling nation -- a portrait that gains power partly by virtue of its incompleteness." A.O. Scott, The New York Times
  • "Alone among the works I've seen and read about Iraq in the last three years, Iraq in Fragments captures the tremendous complexity and variability of the country, offering neither facile hope nor fashionable despair." Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com

Metacritic Reviews

3,000 Messages Per Day

"Each day, marketers expose Americans to some 12 billion display ads, 3 million radio ads, and more than 300,000 television commercials. The unsolicited electronic junk mail known as spam now constitutes some 10 percent of all worldwide e-mail. The average U.S. consumer receives roughly 1 million marketing messages a year across all media, or about 3,000 messages per day."

- From Net Worth: Shaping Markets When Customers Make the Rules, by John Hagel III and Marc Singer (Harvard Business School Press)

Born to Live

"Man is born to live, not to prepare for life."

- Boris Pasternak

The Bureaucracy of Mass Murder

From Holocaust archive tells many new stories (Arthur Max, Associated Press):

Half a dozen buildings in Bad Arolsen, a German spa town, houses an immense archive of the victims of Nazi persecution. The documents are maintained by the International Tracing Service which is connected to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The fifty million pages of files include “scraps of paper, transport lists, registration books, labor documents, medical and death registers make reference to 17.5 million individuals caught up in the machinery of persecution, displacement, and death."

To operate history's greatest slaughter, the Nazis created a bureaucracy that meticulously recorded the arrest, movement and death of each victim. What documents survived Nazi attempts to destroy them were collected by the Allies to help people find missing relatives. The first documents were sent in 1946 to Bad Arolsen, and the administration was handed over to the Red Cross in 1955."

Anne Frank is listed among the names of Jews picked up from Amsterdam and transported to concentration camps.

“But most of the lives recorded in Bad Arolsen are known to none but their families. They are people like Cornelis Marinus Brouwenstijn, a Dutchman who vanished into the Nazi gulag at age 22 for illegally possessing a radio. In a plain manila envelope are his photo, a wallet, some snapshots, and a naughty typewritten joke about women in the army.”

"Over the years, the International Tracing Service has answered 11 million requests to locate family members or provide certificates supporting pension claims or reparations. It says it has a 56 percent rate of success in tracing the requested name. But the workload has been overwhelming. Two years ago it had a backlog of nearly half a million unanswered queries. Director Blondel says the number was whittled down to 155,000 this summer and will disappear by the spring of 2008. New queries have slowed to just 700 a month."

“Compounding the delay in releasing the files is the cumbrous makeup of the governing committee. Any decision on their future requires the assent of all 11 member nations — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States.”

Archivist Sabine Stein: "Former inmates and their families want to see some tangible part of their history; they want to tell their stories. What I find most frustrating is that they have all these documents and they are just sitting on them."

Paul Shapiro, of the
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington:"What victims of these crimes fear the most is that when they disappear — and it's happening very fast now — no one will remember the names of the families they lost.”

PS This post has been conjuring up images of Anselm Kiefer's lead books (Zweistromland, Buch mit Flügeln).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Free Running vs. Parkour

The opening scene in the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, reminded me of a video clip of a kid scaling buildings and doing diving flips off them then immediately getting back up to run off in search of more obstacles. It turns out there are a couple of terms describing this activity. They started out as synonymous, but have parted ways based on intent.

  • Free running uses acrobatic moves to respond with buildings and their environment in an emphasis on asthetics and athletics.
  • Parkour is more about being able to quickly escape and evade pursuers using free running techniques to access the inaccessible.

Bond is obviously interested in parkour, but jump over the first two minutes of this clip to get a taste of free running:


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Strange Conversation

Kris Delmhorst was inspired by the work of well-known poets (Walt Whitman, Robert Browning, E.E. Cummings, Lord Byron, George Eliot and Edna St. Vincent Millay, etc.) to compose the songs on her latest album, Strange Conversation. "Some of the poems are set verbatim to music, some dismantled and reassembled in significantly new renditions, others merely used as the jumping-off point for Delmhorst's own literate lyrical take."

Excerpt from From Light of the Light
lyrics adapted from: Walt Whitman, "A Passage to India"

O my soul.
Steer us to uncharted waters, hoist the anchor, shake out every sail.
My brave soul.
If they’re all the seas of heaven
Why should we not go where all maps fail?

Everything is Music
lyrics adapted from Rumi, "Where Everything Is Music"

We've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.

Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?
Let the beauty that you love be what you do.

Stop talking now, open up the window
The one right there in the middle of your heart
Give us your hands, sit down in this circle
You know you got no need to keep yourself apart

Today you wake up sad and empty, don't go back to sleep.
There's a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Don't worry now, about saving all these songs,
There's so many more just waiting to be found.
And if all these instruments should disappear
We would still hear something coming up from way down in the ground

Because we've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.

NPR interview from November 16, 2006 (thanks rrobinson)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Authority

I once found myself unable to smooth talk a delusional old man into returning to the psychiatric hospital after learning that he'd left against medical advice. He had spent the past several days lying on his couch in the same immodest turquoise gown they had given him and that he'd walked home in. There was a piece of tape on one forearm from the IV they'd used to rehydrate him.

He was so entranced by voices and grand ideas that he only got up to snack on leftover KFC mashed potatoes and gravy from the fridge. He had lost interest in his usual pastimes: composing poetry (Martin Luther King Jr. is a hell of a man,/I’m not fit to kiss that man’s shoes) and sticking Hustler Magazine pages to his walls with paste he made himself out of flour and water.

He was not taking his medications or washing himself or his clothes. None of my usual strategies were working. When he finally chased me out of his subsidized apartment brandishing a plastic spoon yelling, “If you don’t get out of here, I’m going to stuff these potatoes up your ass,” the only choice was to call for an ambulance.

Our problem wasn’t a big priority since he could probably stay alive indefinitely with this set of symptoms. I sat waiting on the hallway stairs while I rescheduled appointments and caught up on paperwork. When two firemen arrived, I reviewed the situation with them. They seemed bored by the abundance of healthy vital signs. One of them said to him, “Sir, why don’t you let your case manager drive you over to the hospital?”

He paused, turning his face away to consider the idea, then said, “Okay.”

As we pulled away, he waved good-bye to the men like a little boy after visiting a pilot in an airplane cockpit. I could sense their pity for him that I didn’t try asking him nicely to begin with, not realizing that it was their uniforms that had sealed the deal.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Common Sense, Dancing

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."

- William James

To Waiting

To Waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
different to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

- by W.S. Mervwin from Present Company (KCRW Bookworm)

Where To Live

From the Brazen Careerist

Richard Florida, professor at George Mason University in Virginia and author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," summarized conclusions from a recent summit of the mavens of the economic development and the psychology of happiness: "Place is as important as having a job that challenges you, but not as important as relationships with family and friends."

- Penelope Trunk

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan "Volcano"

Balance

A man strolled around the North Market balancing a cardboard box on his head. His wife walked beside him and their baby was strapped to his front like a tiny tandem skydiver. Shoppers were doing double takes, their faces lighting up as they tracked the moving stage he was creating with each relaxed and alert step. There were bumper stickers on the box: I YOGA and We had our baby at home. His wife caught me staring and winked at me for smiling at her husband’s little hobby.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tom Waits "Hold On"

Jules Renard

French novelist Jules Renard published his journal in 1925. In an introduction to his own journal, A Writer's Notebook, Somerset Maugham says of Renard's, "The journal is wonderfully good reading. It is extremely amusing. It is witty and subtle and often wise... Jules Renard jotted down neat retorts and clever phrases, epigrams, things seen, the sayings of people and the look of them, descriptions of scenery, effects of sunshine and shadow, everything, in short, that could be of use to him when he sat down to write for publication."

  • Writing is the only way to talk without being interrupted.
  • Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.
  • Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.
  • Failure is not the only punishment for laziness; there is also the success of others.
  • We spend our lives talking about this mystery. Our life.
  • We don't understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but we know it and admit it.
  • Fame is a constant effort.
  • There are good and bad times, but our mood changes more often than our fortune.
  • Look for the ridiculous in everything, and you will find it.
  • Don't tell a woman she's pretty; tell her there's no other woman like her, and all roads will open to you.
  • The only man who is really free is the one who can turn down an invitation to dinner without giving an excuse.
  • If money does not make you happy; give it back.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Vachel Lindsey

It's the birthday of the poet Vachel Lindsey, born in Springfield, Illinois (1879). His parents wanted him to become a doctor, but he dropped out of medical school after three years and tried to make a living drawing pictures and writing poetry. After struggling for several years and working for a time in the toy department of Marshall Fields, he decided to walk across the United States, trading his poems and pictures for food and shelter along the way.

Then in 1913, Poetry magazine published Lindsay's poem "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," and it was a big hit. He became one of the leaders of the movement to revive poetry as an oral rather than a written art form, and he spent much of the rest of his life traveling around the country, reciting his work for audiences.

The Writer's Almanac

De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

From The Psychology of Taste, and Choice by Alain De Botton

It’s hard not to be mystified by the taste of others. No wonder the Romans coined the expression de gustibus non est disputandum - tastes are not to be disputed.

But I think you can make some generalizations about how taste works. I think we’re drawn to call something beautiful whenever we detect that it contains, in a concentrated form, those qualities in which we personally, or our society’s more generally, are deficient.

You’ll call a nearly blank canvas beautiful when your own life is slightly messy and your city chaotic. We call good taste, a style which can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave. A style which carries a correct dosage of our missing virtues.

Viewed in this light, a given stylistic choice will tell us as much about what someone lacks inside as what he or she likes.

Unforeseen

Unforeseen
by Reid Bush

Before we buried him, no one thought
to trace around his hand.

It would have been an easy thing to do
if you could stand his fingers cold, stiff:
just a piece of paper underneathand pen or pencil.

I don't think there's anybody
could half imagine in a million years
how much since he died we've argued
over just how big his hands were.

It's hard to know when you need to
what it is you're going to want.

[from Jonathan Carroll's blog]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What You Get And Don't Get

"What would it be like if you didn't measure the success of your life just by what you get and don't get, but gave equal or greater priority to how aligned you are with your deepest values?"

- Phillip Moffitt

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Write Into The Problem

"Instead of writing around a problem, always write into the problem.”

- Paul Haggis

No Content

"You can ask me anything you want about acting and I will try and answer. But if what you want to know about is fame and celebrity, then I can't help you. Because the whole celebrity thing has no content to it. It's not valuable, it's not meaningful, it's not anything. It's not real."

~ Julianne Moore

That's What We're Trying To Do Over Here

Were you wondering how Sacha Baron Cohen get all of those people to embarrass themselves in his movie? Like rodeo director, Bobby Rowe, who recommends that Borat shave his mustache so that he wouldn't look quite so Muslim and make people nervous about whether he's got explosives strapped to his body. Rowe also responds to Borat's claim that back in his country they put gays in prison and hang them saying, "That's what we're trying to do over here."

After Borat praises Bush's "war of terror" and works the crowd up with images of the president of the United States drinking "the blood of every single man, woman, and child in Iraq," he butchers the national anthem so badly that they finally turn on him.

Rowe told
Newsweek, "I go out there, and I say, 'Get the hell outta this dadgum building! Half the sumbucks in here are probably packin' heat, and they'll put you in front of the firin' squad.' Boy, they got in their trucks and hauled boogie."

With a budget of $18 million, Borat made $26.5 million in its opening weekend earning the
highest wide release opening gross for a film showing on under 1,100 screens.

Metacritic reviews of Borat

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Mind's True Nature

"Blind to the mind's true nature, we hold fast to our thoughts, which are nothing but manifestations of that nature. This freezes awareness into solid concepts, such as I and other, desirable and detestable, and plenty of others...Once you have recognized the true nature of reality, which is empty and at the same time appears as the phenomenal world, your mind will cease to be under the power of delusion. If you know how to leave your thoughts free to dissolve by themselves as they arise, they will cross your mind as a bird crosses the sky -- without leaving any trace."

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Questions for James Ellroy

What I like about the era I am writing about, meaning 1958 to 1972, is that the anti-Communism mandate justified virtually any kind of clandestine activity. I like exploring the mind-set of extreme expediency.

What about more contemporary forms of expediency, like the anti-terrorism measures practiced by the Bush administration?
I do not follow contemporary politics. I live in a vacuum. I don’t read books. I don’t read newspapers. I do not own a TV set or a cellphone or a computer. I spend my evenings alone, usually lying in the dark talking to women who aren’t in the room with me.


You mean they’re on the phone?
No. They’re metaphysical. I brood. I brood about former women in my life. Potential future women in my life. I ignore the culture. I don’t want it to impede, impair, interdict, suppress or subsume my imagination with extraneous influences.

Is this an act? Are you trying to pass yourself off as the sort of isolated sociopath who is a stock character in crime fiction?
No. I am not acting. There are times when I think it isn’t quite kosher to be lying in the dark talking to women who aren’t in the room with me. And it turns into a certain kind of hauntedness and loneliness. But by and large, I dig it.

You’re oddly cheerful for a self-described hermit.
I am happy by and large. I work hard. And I love life. I am having a blast.

- Deborah Solomon, New York Times Magazine, November 5, 2006

It Could Go Away Again Forever

From THE WEEK MAGAZINE, November 10, 2006

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has made a miraculous recovery from a strange disease called Spasmodic Dysphonia that made it impossible for him to talk normally for more than a year. SD, which affects some 30,000 Americans, affects the portion of the brain that controls speech. Sufferers typically cannot speak at all unless reciting poetry, laughing, or using an exaggerated falsetto or baritone. Most patients never recover, but Adams' voice returned to him suddenly while he was chanting "Jack Be Nimble" as an exercise. "I don't even know if my voice is going to last," he said. "Maybe this is an illusion. It came back, but in a few days it could go away again forever."

From a December 2005 entry posted on the Dilbert blog

It’s bad enough to find out that I’ll probably never speak normally to another person for the rest of my life. But to make things worse, my notorious cleverness makes people think I’m joking when I explain it. The following scene has been played out about 100 times in the past week.

Me (hoarse whisper): “Hi. How…are…you?”

Other Person: “Ooh, sounds like you have laryngitis”

Me (hoarse whisper): “No…it’s a… speaking disorder. It’s.. permanent.”

Other Person: “Ha Ha Ha Ha! You’re funny.”

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Droplets

Droplets
by C.K. Williams, from Love About Love

Even when the rain falls relatively hard,
only one leaf at a time of the little tree
you planted on the balcony last year,
then another leaf at its time, and one more,
is set trembling by the constant droplets,

but the rain, the clouds flocked over the city,
you at the piano inside, your hesitant music
mingling with the din of the downpour,
the gush of rivulets loosed from the eaves,
the iron railings and flowing gutters,

all of it fuses in me with such intensity
that I can't help wondering why my longing
to live forever has so abated that it hardly
comes to me anymore, and never as it did,
as regret for what I might not live to live,

but rather as a layering of instants like this,
transient as the mist drawn from the rooftops,
yet emphatic as any note of the nocturne
you practice, and, the storm faltering, fading
into its own radiant passing, you practice again.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Beautiful Awkward Pictures

Check out Toni Collette's new CD, Beautiful Awkward Pictures. You can hear the songs at her web page and watch a video of the title song at YouTube. I read that is was only being released in Australia, but I downloaded it from iTunes.

I found some information about her singing background. She has been singing since she was 14: school musicals, the lead in a big musical production celebrating the bicentennial, advertising jingles, musicals in Sydney and on Broadway. She's been writing songs for about ten years.

Her husband, Dave Galafassi, is the drummer in her band.

9


I've been streaming the new Damien Rice CD, 9, and checking out the video clips while I wait to download it when it's available on iTunes.

I'm especially enjoying 9 crimes, rootless tree, dogs, grey room, and accidental babies. That's one of the things I admire about him. He seems to approach a project as a whole instead of putting out a couple of strong songs with a bunch that have been phoned in. It is sweet with intense sections. The trip from spare and simple to complex and powerful within one song seems to be his trademark.

If the woman he is singing to in accidental babies is a real person, I feel for her. I feel even worse for the guy Damien argues that she has settled for. He's not one to quickly extinguish a flame just because the relationship is over.

I love this from dogs:

She lives with an orange tree and a girl that does yoga. She picks her dead ones from the ground when we come over. And she gives - I get without giving anything - to me like a morning sun.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This Is How It Works

This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

- Regina Spektor, lyrics from On the Radio from her CD, Begin to Hope

How You See It

"The people there were gods and midgets and knew themselves mortal and so the midgets walked tall so as not to embarrass the gods and the gods crouched so as to make the small ones feel at home. And, after all, isn't that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people's heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh, so that's how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that."

- Ray Bradbury, from the introduction to Dandelion Wine

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Automatic Shutoff Valve

"Men got a kind of automatic shutoff valve in their head? Like, you're talkin' to one and just gettin' to the part where you're gonna say what you really been wantin' to say, and then you say it and you look at him and he ain't even heard it. Not like it's too complicated or something', just he ain't about to really listen. One might lie sometime and tell ya he knows just what you mean, but I ain't buyin'. 'Cause later you say somethin' else he woulda got if he'd understood you in the first place, only he don't, and you know you been talkin' for no good reason. It's frustratin'."

Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart: The story of Sailor and Lula

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Similarity of Differences

Excerpts from an article written by director Alejandro González Iñárritu on his upcoming film, Babel, for FLM Magazine:

"I began shooting Babel under the firm conviction that I would make a picture about the difference between human beings and their inability to communicate, not only because of physical, political and emotional frontiers. I was going to do it from a complex and universal standpoint until the more intimate plane of two people could be reached...

I had a feeling that, alongside the film's central theme and despite all the technology that has been developed to improve communication between human beings, the reality turns out to be very different. The problem is not with the countless new tools used to communicate but that nobody listens...

...by filming Babel I confirmed that real borderlines are within ourselves and more than a physical space, barriers are in the world of ideas.

I realized that what makes us happy as human beings could differ greatly, but what makes us miserable and vulnerable beyond our culture, race, language or financial standing is the same for all..."


Official movie site:
http://tinyurl.com/y87zl9

Metacritic:
http://tinyurl.com/y3jchc

Fighting Bull


Harry Frankfurt, the Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, published a book last year in which he sets out a philosophical theory of bullshit. On Bullshit, which became a surprise best seller, was actually a paper he wrote back in 1986.

Publisher, Princeton University Press, commented: "Bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

Deborah Solomon's questions this week in the New York Times magazine were for Mr. Frankfurt regarding his new book, an examination of the importance of truth, On Truth.

What do you think the pursuit of truth requires?

Recognizing truth requires selflessness. You have to leave yourself out of it so you can find out the way things are in themselves, not the way they look to you or how you feel about them or how you would like them to be.

The rest of her questions and his responses (free registration): http://tinyurl.com/ykox6d

60 Minutes clip

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Shenpa

"In order to move away from...basic uneasiness, we find comfort in certain things, which in moderation could enhance our life, but they become imbued with addictive quality. Then what could have enhanced our life, or brought delight to our life —like a taste, or a smell, or an activity, or anything—begins to make our life into a nightmare. All we're getting is this short-term symptom relief. We are willing to sometimes die to keep getting short-term symptom relief."

- Pema Chödrön

Pocket Film Festival

About a hundred shorts and three feature-length films created on cell phones were judged at the second annual Pocket Film Festival this month held at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

"Just because everyone has a cell phone in our pockets doesn't make us all Spielbergs," said Leonard Bourgois-Beaulieu, the director of a short film, Busy, which won the audience-choice award. "You've still got to have an artistic vision, or else it's just so much dumb footage."

Check out some of the films here (in French):
http://tinyurl.com/ylvgxr