I can be so stupid…

3 Apr

One of the ways that stupidity manifests is in a fear of flying. Its something I want and need to get fixed – for me, and for all those around me. Its particularly annoying because I fly a fair amount and often with the same people. Anyhow, one of the reasons that this phobia is such an issue is that its not just something that acts up during the time I’m flying or just before. Because of that, its not something that simply fixable with a glass (or small bottle) of wine – which I’ve tried, on non-early morning flights – or a sedative. It is, rather, something which gets me in the week or so before I fly. These periods thus become a loci of existential fears, of me wanting to make all in my life right, comfortable, on the correct trajectory. I try to be nicer to those around me, set up those I love with good memories. Its truly freaky, even as its motivated by, I hope and think, kind thoughts. In these times over the last few years I’ve thought about writing a brief statement for my loved ones in case anything happens to me. That too, is basically nuts. I realize that it is way more dangerous to drive across town at rush hour than fly. But it occurs to me. In the past I’ve always decided against it; the reason, sadly, is not just that I think that this feeling is ridiculous. It is, even more, superstition. But, in order to see if I can get past some of this general mental pattern, I think I might, right now, write a few things down which I hope, if anything were to happen, would get back to those who mean something to me. I mean, really, this is probably a good thing for anyone to do at any time. So, here goes: First off, please be happy again without me. It sounds self-serving to say that, in a way, but I’m pretty certain that I’ve built some great relationships with some great people and that me not being around would be pretty devastating. For that reason it deserves saying – to those for whom I am a central part of your life, please remember to be happy again. And, next, some general thoughts I have about life: live for beauty, happiness, love and justice. Oh, and friends, coffee, laughs, good booze and food and beautiful days. Also, live each day as it if might be your last, while also, bit by bit, achieving your life’s goals. In terms of music which has meant a lot to me, those of you close to me probably know it. But I would really recommend a few things: Mozart’s Piano Sonata Number 1 in A Major; Jobim’s  Samba De Uma Nota Su; Chet Baker’s That Old Feeling; Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven; Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone; most of Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits album (its cliche due to its widespread appreciation, but great for what makes it so appreciable); Jorge Ben’s Oba, La Vem Ela; and Erykah Badu’s Orange Moon. More: Solomon Burke’s Someone to Love Me; PJ Harvey’s Last Living Rose; Dave Brubeck’s Take Five; Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Me and Jane Doe; Jobim’s Girl From Ipanema (you know why); a bunch of Sarah Harmer and Hawksley Workman stuff (especially Piano Blink); Air’s All I Need; Belle and Sebastian’s Woman’s Realm; Sleater-Kinney’s Modern Girl; Clem Snide’s Moment in the Sun; Wilco’s Kamera (and other stuff from that album and band); Modest Mouse’s Float On; Badly Drawn Boy’s Magic In The Air; Etta James’ At Last; Ella and Louis’ They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Otherwise, just one thing: please, someone, take care of the people I love and make sure that they go on and continue to live happy lives and know that I loved them so. That’s about it. Also, I realize this is absurd.

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Television’s Vision

3 Apr

People have, over the years, been quite hard on TV as a medium, one which sucks your time and leaves you leguming on the sofa. I have some sympathy for this view. On the opposite end of the spectrum, of late people have been praising TV as a wonderful and serious medium worthy of critical praise. I have some sympathy for this view too, and have enjoyed many of the shows which have brought about this new critical emphasis. But in all this argument on the extreme ends of argument I feel that a fundamental fact of TV has been forgotten, if not (at all) in our experience and the general reception of TV, then in the discourse upon it – that is to say, the soothing and comforting effect it can serve. In much, real daily life (especially for those who still have a real, signal receiving TV) television operates a smidge as that dark vision, a blinding, obfuscating opiate for the masses, but also a lighter version of that equation, alternative pleasure like legalized pot, cocktails, whatever. In that way I would simply like to give a few words over to shows which are wonderful at fulfilling that role, while not leaving me feeling guilty: Gilmore Girls; The Colbert Report; Seinfeld; Justified. Enjoy them as would any comforting pleasure, like a blanket when you need it, artfulness which goes down easy but is no worse, really, for that fact.

Architecture, the economy, beauty and meaning

30 Mar

Is a Wal-mart horrible because of the architecture? Or is the architecture horrible because it’s a Wal-mart? On the surface this seems to be a somewhat pointless question. The two issues are so interlinked that unraveling the root appears intractable. In all likelihood both are important contributors to the end condition. But I think that examining each strand can bring us a better understanding of the situation that we face as we contemplate how to build better cities and a better life for all people.

Sans la Reine

21 Mar

Recently, while browsing the Canadian Design Resource I came across an interesting project – entitled Sans la Reine – by designer Craig Alun Smith. The work is made up of Canadian coins which have been hacked, the Queen, Elizabeth, carefully carved out of the copper, zinc, whatever. The coins and the freestanding heads are lovely, the perfection of the slicing revealing the delicacy and beauty which so often resides at the bottom of pockets, in the lining of couches, in your car’s little coin drawer. Part of what’s interesting about this project, I think is that it reminds us to contemplate these things even as many contemplate the end of the era of material money, or at least its slow slide into being a subsidiary form of purchase power. For me, though, the first resonance was  about the iconography which this work disturbs. Its not just because I’m an anti-monarchist, nor do I think this piece is that simple. For one, I am an antimonarchist, but not of the vociferous and intense Hitchens variety. (Much as I admire him and agree that its an inherently undemocratic structure) In fact, I get a lot of what my many monarchist good friends and family admire in its stabilizing nature. Its just that I wish we would spend a bit more time, regardless of the monarchy, celebrating things Canadian. Last year I read John Ralston Saul’s biography of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, two figures central to the development of democracy – or, in the old phrasing, “Responsible Government” – in Canada. (The book is Saul’s contribution to the Penguin series on great Canadians that he edited and co-ordinated. I also recommend the slightly odd tome on Marshall McLuhan written by Douglas Coupland.) The year before, I spent part of my summer on a beach on Lake Winnipeg devouring Saul’s book A Fair Country, a lovely book which presents the history of Canada as a narrative of fairness – a conscious at creating a national myth. Both of these got me to thinking about how we don’t seem to spend enough time on these stories, these myths – our own history and symbols and narratives. And it would be great if, like Alun Smith’s piece, we could take her majesty off of some of our money and, in just a few cases, splice in some great Canadians, like Lafonatine, Baldwin, later Prime Ministers, aboriginal leaders, thinkers and scientists, artists, whoever seems right. As the first commenter on the CDR site about Sans la Reine states: “Now if we could get a Canadian icon on those puppies…” Indeed; there’s no need for us only to have the three who grace our paper notes be all human Canadiana that the mint celebrates.

Things which I recommend (or which got me thinking)

21 Mar

I don’t just intend for this blog to be a clearing house or storage site for those pieces of cultural ephemera which I want to acknowledge, memorialize, record or expunge from floating around in my psyche and visio-sphere (Post-It notes, on tables, in various temporary e-sites). Indeed, I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year or so about trying to reduce and streamline by experience of information – worrying along the lines of Nicholas Carr’s thinking and thinking about slowness, as put forth by Carl Honore and others. But for the time-being that’s what’ll be. Maybe its better to just get it out of my head, alongside some brief reflections from my vantage point.

1. This article from Salon by Will Doig (who after this one and his earlier consideration of the bus is becoming one of my preferred Salon contributors) drives at something I’ve thought about for awhile now while looking at proposed and completed park space projects over the past few years in magazines, online and in person and, in particular, as I think about developments within parks in my own city, Winnipeg. The trend has been towards animating public spaces, which I think is good. But as Doig describes it, and as put once before by, I believe, Witold Rybczynki, parks don’t need to be so actively designed, so busy, so full, so “activated.” Sometimes their point is to be the opposite. At the same time, I think Doig understates the amount of design going on in New York’s lovely Bryant Park. Sure it is mostly trees and grass. But in our experience of it is also very much filled (happily) with benches and chairs and tables and stone balustrades and a coffee stand and even shelves of books and those old-school rods which library’s use to hold the paper. What makes it great is the combination of the one form of serenity and stability with the other, which actually gets you in that space and lets you sit and experience the former.

2. A very well-written, evocative and poignant reflection upon California as a broader cultural symbol and as a personal site of meaning by Eric Puchner, published in GQ‘s March, 2011 issue. I hope they continue running such pieces in the future – it’s what elevates them as a magazine from mere runner of excellent style advice into a journal par excellence.

3. Another article from the same issue of GQ referred to above which got me thinking was Mary Choi’s one-pager about the trend in men’s fashions and cultural tastes toward a salt-of-the-earth, rugged, old school masculinity of the sort which ends with waxed cotton pant-clad men sipping home-brewed liquor out of vintage glasses around unfinished tables, all plaided up after a day of digging in the garden, or fixing or making things in the workshop. (Its not online but is excerpted here.) Its essentially describes what I’ve been thinking of as a return to prominence for antimodernism, without that contextualizing historical term. It’s clever and funny and getting at something real while also expressing some exasperation in a nice enough way.  In terms of the content, Choi doesn’t really position this trend vis-a-vis greater patterns in the economy, technology, or environmental concerns, which is too bad. In addition, she pegs this trend (at least in men’s fashion) as dating to fall of 2007. I think that, in my experience, some momentum in this direction really began in summer of 2006. I think that such things as Hawksley Workman’s Between the Beautifuls gets at some of that apocalyptic underside and I also think that much of this has to do with the worries about our cultural and ecological substructures which came to full light in that year of An Inconvenient Truth, terrible engagement Iraq and awful governance in the U.S. I don’t mean to be nit-picky, but I think this difference helps originate this broader movement. Also, someone else on another site pointed out how quick things change; apparently the same author discussed how this look on men was completely wonderful but a year before.

4. The American habit of referring to politicians by their former titles even years after they last served in such a role always baffled me and struck me as somehow wrong. This article in Slate by Emily Yoffe puts that line of thinking in concrete terms and gets at the underlying problem with doing so.

5. This review in Book Forum, by Andrew Ross, is a wonderful analysis of two interesting books (Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class and Soul Craft and Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work) which address what we might call the “crisis in work” which I believe faces us now as one aspect of the changes taking place economically, technologically and ecologically. I would generally endorse Ross’s response and am now eager to read his own text on this subject, Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times. I just wish he’d included The Idler’s Glossary (or its follow-up) in his article as I’d love someone smarter than I do a thinking through of the relationships between the ideas reflected in all three books, in particular Glenn and Kingwell’s and Crawford’s. (Not that I don’t like de Botton – I greatly enjoyed his book The Architecture of Happiness – just that his book on work seems, from this review, a bit less intriguing and probing than the others.) One thing I do appreciate about Ross’s article is that it begins with an acknowledgement of the fact that, all desires to the contrary, the fact is that in our society we do have to work if we want to build some kind of life or aren’t inheriting that ability from someone else’s work or inheritance. This is something which I think both Kingwell and perhaps even Crawford play down. What it comes to, really, then, is how to make work better. As per Kingwell – and previous thinkers like Russell – who I think are in many ways correct, part of the answer is to have less of it. This has already come about due to things like technology, its just that our adjustment to this fact seems to have ended sometime before the Thirties, even if the dream continued on until sometime in the Seventies. As per Crawford, its to have meaningful forms of work, which I, again, would agree with. I think that something grounding your life – and, preferably, paying – can be good. Now, then, the question is how to achieve these goals…

Alex Himelfarb on the Consequence of Tax Cuts

1 Mar

I highly recommend this talk given for TVO’s program Big Ideas by the former head of Canada’s Privy Council, Alex Himelfarb, which is a very strong argument against our culture’s headlong rush into making tax cuts into a solution for every problem. I should say that its also available from iTunes as an MP3.

You’re doxic, I’m slipping under…

24 Feb

In general, I quite liked Carl Wilson’s book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste on the subject of Celine Dion and taste. That said, the chapter on taste gave me some pause. The chapter consists of some interesting points from Kant, a rehash of Bourdieu, a happy (for me) and good and surprising reference to Greenberg. And yet this portion of the book somewhat alienated me by venturing too far from the actual music, thereby implying our entire enjoyment process to be governed by such class-differentiation process. This strikes me as false. In many ways my enjoyment seems to me at its most pure when I am able to mentally check out of such processes. Frankly, that whole thing he describes as the indie-rock cliche of “I used to like that band” just seems like juvenile teenagery shit. No one I know is like that even if I’m sure there are people out there like that. In my mind, caring quite so much about status itself is, for lack of a better word, annoying. Now, that might be my own habitus speaking, but the least I can say is that if feels to me that in fact this cool-ist, classist approach is somewhat bleeding away, or is isolated, in its most vicious me-against-themism. Wilson certainly neglects, to his detriment, the Hegelian notion of art as a way of escaping all that earthly bullshit, a notion which may be retrograde or impossible but which I think still governs our enjoyment of art. I say so even as I think that Bourdieu’s insights can be helpful in terms of understanding the way we approach fashion, clothing, food, neighbourhood-choice, etc. and probably, yes, music. It’s just that it’s not all that and writing in such a way in my mind reveals more about the author than it does about universal principles. You might think that way, but what does that mean for everyone else? We might do it, to varying degrees, but there’s really a lot more going on, despite trying to crucify yourself on the notion that taste is all class.