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Category: Culture

Being Nice

Being Nice

Still so often seen as a sign of weakness, niceness and kindness can be helpful to your artistic work. The idea that you have to be ruthless in some ways, or visibly tough, or relentlessly claw your way to the top is becoming outdated, too. Being generous of spirit isn’t just for other people, either, it’s potentially helpful for you, too.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
— Annie Dillard, The Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about my feelings for and of Ready Player One in anticipation of the upcoming film. There’s plenty of hate out there for it, as well as slavering affection, and it’d be easy to take a haughty or dismissive position for the things I found . . . less than ideal. Chris Isaac, writing for Tor offers a thoughtful perspective.

Why So Much Backlash? Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds

Lindsey Ellis does the same for the Twilight series, and you could do so much worse than viewing all her videos.

So give it away, no hoarding. Not “don’t get paid,” but “share the secrets.” Austin Kleon advocates pretty much this thing on his site and in his books.

Reconsider how much we should trash works that we don’t resonate with, rather than considering why they work—or don’t—for us.

The zeitgeist is telling me the world has been moving in a meaner direction (by which I think I mean the structures of power) for some time, and it seems right to be part of the wave pushing back against it.

Manufacturing the Sacred

Manufacturing the Sacred

Surfing used to be my church. I went more often than once a week, but that’s nothing unusual to many. Muslims would rightly say, “… yeah? And?” But for a non-religious person, I still enjoy and get tangible benefits of viewing some parts of my life as sacred. More often these days, they’re moments, not necessarily entities or institutions.

Today was one of them. I’d had Mark Hollis’s sole solo album (eponymous, 1998) in my collection from about 2004. I was—am—a big fan of Talk Talk, having rediscovered them after I lost track for several years after they released The Colour of Spring. Theirs was one of the most rapid and far-reaching evolutions in all of popular music, going from a synth pop dance band through post rock over the course of five albums. They didn’t do it as fast as The Beatles, but they went much further, stylistically. Mark Hollis really was the driving creative force behind the music, and I wanted the final chapter in his oeuvre to be special. From what I’d read, the album was relatively quiet, so I wanted to experience it alone in a room on a quiet day. As quiet as one could get in the city, of course.

The problem was, I was trying to create a perfect moment, and I don’t think they can be manufactured. What I needed to happen was a sacred moment. An amazing experience can happen more easily with that intention and setting, but you don’t need perfection to experience the sublime. But I made sure I’d be alone for a while, opened the blinds to the sunset, and started the album.

It wasn’t a perfect moment. But it was profound. I’d been putting off a really nice experience so I could try to make it perfect, but really, I’m not sure that’s good for me. For us. It was certainly unfair to put the expectation on the artist to have made the perfect thing, even if that turned out to be true.

We need more of this sacred time, I think. I unreservedly recommend you take 45 minutes, or an hour if it’s long, to just listen to a single album you’ve never heard before in a devotional way—doing nothing else except perhaps look out at the trees and skies nearby.

Shifting Generations

Shifting Generations

I feel like an old man, sometimes. It’s not new, but as Gen-Xers, um, inexorably slip into the trick-knee-bad-back zone, I expect the frequency of this feeling will, irritatingly, increase.

But this is okay. Every generation—in addition to blaming the one before1—inevitably succeeds the previous one, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. No amount of kicking and screaming will prevent Baby Boomer influence from subsumation. For example.

What I’m also aware of in me regarding Millennials, specifically, are feelings of admiration, desire to protect, and inspiration to act. Every generation also trashes the one after them. They’re always wrong. No millions-strong group is any one thing, and there are plenty of conscious, engaged, competent people among the next generation. I’m so unworried about the future. At least, not where the capabilities of the young are concerned.

The Parkland student protests and activism is one of those inspirational zeitgeist markers, and it edges into post-Millennial/Gen-Z territory, even.

And I was again thinking of David Bowie, who was always thinking about what was happening “now,” and searching for the pulse of history as it moved through. Immune to your consultation, old folks. raises fist like John Bender


Wheel Spinning

Wheel Spinning

Almost 50 years ago, Blood, Sweat & Tears released a song about how culture goes in cycles like a wheel, swinging left to right and back again. It’s natural to feel stuck, sometimes. It’s harder to know at those dark moments that I won’t be there forever. It’s a big picture perspective that serves me well, when I can remember it.

Another idea I’ve tried to keep in mind is that of Taoist or Zen balance, that what may seem good or bad or fortunate or tragic today can easily become the opposite tomorrow. So it isn’t worth the emotional capital it takes to dwell too intensely on any particular event in our lives.

Of course, we’re only human, and not very good at a wide or long perspective on existence. It’s easy to become roiled by life, politics, and customers.

We need these little reminders that life is never on rails, nor traveling in one direction, forever.

Just A Couple Links

Just A Couple Links

I’ve been inspired by and thinking about a few things the past day, and it seems appropriate to share.

First, the Falcon Heavy launch was thrilling, and the return of the boosters to perfect vertical ready positions on respective launchpads even more so. It’s constantly amazing what humans can do.

(Bonus nostalgia porn—one of the links from that video was to Nirvana’s 1992 acceptance speech for the MTV Video Music Awards’ Best New Artist.)

David Byrne has long been and will probably continue to be an inspiration for his thoughtful, daring approaches to art. I look to him as an artist who’s always searching for new sounds, new ideas, and new ways to put them together.

And further and further back, a discovery of possibly an ancient drawing tool. Art is baked into our humanity, and it’s part of what makes us who we are.

Hail Marying

Hail Marying

Sometimes you feel destined to win, and pull out all the stops to do so. Including becoming a receiver when your title is quarterback.

And sometimes you do your best and just don’t make the play.

The thing to remember is there’s almost always another game to play. Your work doesn’t end with the winning point, it’s part of the whole of what you do.

Take a Memo

Take a Memo

The news will always fly fast and ever more furiously. The world isn’t slowing down.

We have to do it ourselves.

I’m not against being well-informed, nor against taking action when your politics and principles demand it. But something I’ve tried to be—buzzword alert—mindful of the past few months is of what’s important to my life. The most important need to take precedence over the most urgent or loudly attention-seeking. Because the most important things endure and matter in the long run.

Here’s where I could get deeper into a discussion of chronic vs. acute pain and how it parallels similar ideas in creative work. But I’ll have to save that for the future. For now, I’m saying we needn’t ignore things like campaign work or #resistance or news. But being mindful of what’s most important to you as an artist means that you don’t push aside your work for anything but emergencies, because the work is your long term creative health in action, made manifest.

Write a note to yourself if you need to be reminded, amidst the chaos of sensationalism and outrage, to keep the habit going, to do your daily work. Stick it where you’ll see it and slow down when you’re feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

Media Binging and the Great Bear

Media Binging and the Great Bear

A couple of links:

If you’ve felt you can’t remember that book you devoured last week at all, there’s a reason. The Atlantic has a concise article on Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read

[Jared] Horvath and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that those who binge-watched TV shows forgot the content of them much more quickly than people who watched one episode a week.

“Reading is a nuanced word,’ [Bakshani] writes, “but the most common kind of reading is likely reading as consumption: where we read, especially on the internet, merely to acquire information. Information that stands no chance of becoming knowledge unless it ‘sticks.’ ”

Or, as Horvath puts it: ‘It’s the momentary giggle and then you want another giggle. It’s not about actually learning anything. It’s about getting a momentary experience to feel as though you’ve learned something.”

Slow and steady, the trope that keeps making comebacks.

The world also lost a great light of writing and art this past week. Ursula K. Le Guin was a genius who lived a long and creatively fruitful life, and she left us with so much. Margaret Atwood’s eulogy in WaPo was one of my favorite remembrances.

Your Worst Thing Is Someone’s Best

Your Worst Thing Is Someone’s Best

Most of us who love a certain medium to the point we could (or do) create lists of our favorite or what we’d consider the best examples will hardly hesitate to question the examples of others. It’s almost a truism that someone next to us who loves or lauds a work we think is awful is up for scorn, or at least a severely-raised eyebrow. Conversely, we might feel compelled to argue them into liking—or at least acknowledging the worth of—a work we think is fantastic.

The trouble is that no one is objectively right, here. It makes as much sense for us to be wrong as any other person. Further, your thoughtful analysis is no more necessarily correct than my gut reaction after the fact. Equal amounts of thought or consideration of the work might allow each of us to put the other person on equal footing, but it won’t change the basic fact: someone is going to love the thing you think sucks.

This phenomenon is an opportunity to be generous of spirit. It’s a valuable tool for artists and observers of art, alike. We need to be able to see our opinions in new ways, and to downplay their objective truth, by turn. Creators can only benefit by rethinking our opinions of the work of others, not to mention our own. We might find new appreciation of stuff we’ve dismissed, and improvements to our own we’d never seen before.

Reaching Out

Reaching Out

A woman I didn’t know hugged me at work the other day. She had mentioned the card scanner always says, “approved,” at the end of a transaction, and said she liked how it validated her. This devolved into some jokes about how we rely on machines so much now, downplaying the need for validation.

I said, “We all need approval now and then, especially during the holiday season.” She immediately moved around the counter and opened her arms to hug me. I gratefully met her embrace.

When we separated, she said, “aw, you guys are gonna make me cry.”

We can’t forget our need for human contact. We need each other sometimes, the introverted and the extro-.

Remember we usually make things for other people. We aren’t sending objects into the void, we need reactions, responses, takes.

We need to connect. We don’t have be wary of that need.