A new year: what’s my tree?

January 1, 2012 at 8:52 pm | In authenticity, creativity, just_so | 1 Comment

Today I have no weekly Diigo links post on offer – I spent so much time on the road, and then resettling back into having the kids “home,” that reading fell by the wayside.

Note the scare quotes around the word home… We’re all quite unsettled, living in temporarily rented furnished quarters, without any of our familiar stuff  (utensils, tools, books, and/or equipment). It’s a bit like camping, albeit somewhat more comfortable.

But settled it ain’t.

The crush of what’s called The Holiday Season, spent alone, weighed much less heavily on the spouse and me, and consequently we felt quite liberated. But it wasn’t that much fun to drive around on Christmas Day, increasingly desperate as we looked for an open restaurant …knowing on top of it that the next day we would get up early so we could drive to Vancouver to meet our daughter at the airport (and the next day, our son)…

There’s a word that comes to mind – not one I particularly like since it has been associated with bad politics, but here it is: deracinated. I currently feel deracinated because of course I am uprooted (I’m totally in flux).

While you can uproot yourself anytime, doing so at the end of December – The Holiday Season – undeniably throws a peculiar seasoning into the mix. On the one hand, I experienced feelings of relief at being off the hook with regard to conforming to holiday rituals I can’t stand or believe in anyway, but on the other there was just a smidgen of regret at having my “fluxity” or deracination coincide with a seasonal marker that insists on traditions and O Christmas Tree roots…

Man-oh-man, the damn tree. Even in my non-Christian childhood household, the tree ruled – a veritable power-plant, no pun intended…

But on the question of power and energy, consider this: when I was pregnant with the first off-spring (and then again with the second), I had enough energy or strength to uproot trees. Seriously: I was a goddamn Amazon.

Of course, these days I think that I’d kill to have those energy levels because so often I feel like I’m stagnating as opposed to growing (like a tree). But that metaphor of uprooting trees interests me. Translate the phrase to German (that land from whence the Christmas tree hails), and “feeling strong enough to uproot trees” is: ich könnte Bäume ausreissen, and it’s a common expression.

Tear that tree out by its roots (deracinate yourself, ’cause change is good) …but then be sure to put it on display and pimp it out with lights. Because nothing says “change it up!” better than a tree that’s …well, you know: all lit up. It’s unnatural, when you think about it. But ever so human.

It’s a symbol. The uprooted tree, decked out in lights: a metaphor of your energy, and your (possibly aggressive?) ability to plant yourself (procreate) wherever you need be. A marker of your brand (lit up, pimped out, gorgeous), and simultaneously a memento of what you used to be: stuck in one place, rooted – before a human bent on deracination decided that designing nature would improve on it. How right she was.

The tree is dead. Long live the tree.

Where’s our “I, Claudius” when we need it?

December 22, 2011 at 8:14 pm | In arts, authenticity, justice, philanthropy, politics | 1 Comment

When I read about art events like this, I can’t help but think of I, Claudius and its relentless chronicle of Rome in decline…

…performance art legend Marina Abramović created a stir when she was accused of exploiting other artists during L.A.’s MOCA gala. Guests at the posh event paid up to $10,000 dollars so they could be seated at one of her tables decorated with centerpieces that included rotating human heads and naked bodies pseudo-copulating with skeletons. Gala guests were allowed to touch the performers and feed them, because the live tabletop pieces signed a non-disclosure agreement and were paid off with a whopping $150 bucks that allowed them to be manhandled as desired. (source)

Who are these $10K-per-plate patrons of the arts who shock and amuse themselves by feeding or otherwise stimulating human centerpieces?

(See also this article about an artist who protested.)

On the erosion of the middle class, see also Rich Shopper, Poor Shopper (PBS Newshour, Making Sen$e) – high end and low end are “doing alright,” but the middle is absent.

The poor artists are renting themselves out for $150 at events where the rich pay $10,000 to support the arts. This is one f-upped world.

Why seasonal mash-ups are a rip-off

November 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm | In advertising, authenticity, just_so | Comments Off on Why seasonal mash-ups are a rip-off

Yesterday, Sara White tweeted seeing her first Christmas tree in a shop window. She wrote that, coming on so early in the season, it felt like an assault on the eyeballs. I responded that I too intensely dislike marketing’s jump-the-gun approach to flogging “seasonal” wares.

In fact, I really dislike it. (Curmudgeon alert!)

Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was (in the US) this great non-religious always-on-a-Thursday holiday called Thanksgiving, which – pace, ye critics of consumerism – was followed by a Friday that kicked off the official “Holiday Season” (including frenzied shopping, but also – thanks to Martha Stewart – frenzied crafting).

On Thanksgiving Day itself, most stores were closed,  and if you didn’t work in retail, you could look forward to a 4-day weekend because businesses other than retail shut their doors till Monday. While Thanksgiving involved a lot of food preparation (and often travel), which could get hectic, a key point (imo) was that it slowed you down for a brief period. At least it did so for a short spell, before unleashing the concentrated fury, …er, pardon me: excitement, of the December season.

Well, no more.

Not only are most stores open on Thanksgiving, which, in a thankless race to the bottom, they must be to “compete,” but the start of the Holiday Season (ok, let’s call it the Christmas Season) is signaled earlier and earlier.

Some years back when I still lived in Boston, I walked into Lord & Taylor and was confronted by cheap Hallowe’en decorations on one side of the aisle, Christmas do-dads on the other, and a few Thanksgiving centerpieces in …well, the center. Talk about an assault on the eyeballs…

Why is this a rip-off?

The reason these seasonal mash-ups are a rip off is this: they rob you of cadence and of a sense of time.

Sure, our sense of time is likely just some weird construct that’s as artificial as anything else – we all seem to age at different rates, we experience time differently, we’ve all experienced periods when time flew and also others when it seemed to stand still.

So why do I think there’s a cadence – or sense of this likely-fluid thing called time – to which we might want to adhere, at least sometimes? Why not celebrate an 18th birthday when we’re 45, or Christmas in summer, or Thanksgiving in October? The Australians don’t have a problem with Santas on beaches, and Canadians seem to manage with Thanksgiving in October – on a Monday, no less. How do they manage? They pretend it’s Thanksgiving all weekend and just have their “special” meal, like, whenever, man – some do it on Saturday, most on Sunday, a few traditionalists on Monday. It is a seriously boring and disappointing holiday, but American Thanksgiving has gone the same route because of retail pressures: you can’t count on everyone being “free” to celebrate it on Thursday late afternoon anymore.

When we get a big enough group to agree on a time concept, it does make time feel more real, though. Thanksgiving used to be a real time marker: it signaled a brief family time and slowing down, followed by a starting gun for the race to the Holidays. Then, after New Year’s Eve and Day were over, the Season was officially over. If you were Martha, you left for the Bahamas on Dec.26 and came back to the office on Jan.2. (Well, one can dream… And, oh, I plan to celebrate my 18th birthday at the end of next month, heh.)

The freedom to experience time at one’s own pace is great – it’s terrific if you can “do” Thanksgiving on any day of the long weekend! Except it’s not as intense because the tension has gone out of the thing and it feels slack.

But also irritating, because you’re bombarded with a lot of media to “celebrate” the …um, what were we celebrating again? And are we doing it alone or with others?

Well, I posted a “curmudgeon alert” at the outset. Let me know if you think fluid holidays let you dance to your own beat or whether you miss the cadence of fixed Seasons.

Pixels are too uniform

July 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm | In authenticity, just_so | 4 Comments

I’ve been decluttering for what seems like eons now. I’m sorting through old papers, selling things off on Used Victoria, and calling tradespeople to get things done around the house.

This afternoon I lifted the lid off one of those cardboard storage boxes, thinking I could tackle a boatload of old letters and postcards.

Of course I got stuck on the first binder of postcards, which offered notes from old friends who had drifted through my commune when I lived in Munich.

Fact is, it was fun – and interesting. I “saw” old friends who, thirty-five years ago, were in the process of turning into the people they are today. I’m not sure whether thirty-five years from now, it will be a commonplace to open a box that contains artifacts you can just touch, hold, turn over, and ponder. Opening old IMs or emails (even if that will be possible – and it’s not likely, is it?) just won’t be the same – you won’t be squinting at the idiosyncrasies of handwriting (or writing utensils), and remembering (as you do) the sing-song of a voice or accent. Pixels are uniform and all look the same individually, even if in the aggregate they make a compelling picture.

Reading in the archives

January 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm | In authenticity, creativity, ideas, victoria, writing | 2 Comments

I was rooting around in my Google documents just minutes ago and came across two 2006 blog post drafts I’d parked there. I published them to my blog at the time, but hadn’t re-viewed them since then: All Eyes (Oct.22, 2006) and Winter will come soon enough (Oct.25, 2006).

Both posts convince me of two things: 1) that I should be leveraging my own archive; and 2) that I’ve become stupider over the past couple of years.

When I started blogging in 2003, I paid attention to what was said about blogging – what it was “supposed” to be, and what it wasn’t supposed to be. I guess I wasn’t particularly good at following instructions, though, so I never rose anywhere near the ranks where the big A-listers hung out – and instead I usually wrote long, convoluted posts.

Why? Probably because I had enough belief in my own ability to analyze – and most importantly: to synthesize – ideas. I continued to pursue my “big” ideas, irrespective of my marginal status and my inability to be popular. So what if my texts were an acquired taste and had a readership of …a few? These few were my readers, and that’s what counted. And so I wrote what I wanted to write.

While it bothered me that popular bloggers insisted that one should write at a Grade 8 level or that one shouldn’t write large blocks of text and that one should always break text up with lots of images and bullet points and paragraph headings, I kept going along in my style. Why? Because it helped me think – and I happened to be thinking about important matters.

That changed.

Somehow, in the last few years I lost touch with my intellectual side, the side that kept me thinking about important things. And it wasn’t other bloggers or A-list pundits who convinced me to lose that touch. It was my local environment. Here, in this island city, I tried to be a local pundit, and lord, what a disaster that was. I wrote for a print publication, which garnered me even less feedback than my blog posts had. I tried writing simply, because I was made to understand that overly complex texts aren’t popular. But I still wasn’t getting any resonance, even if I tried to write at a Grade 8 level. Therefore, it must all be my fault, I concluded. In 2007 the local mainstream media ripped me off, which hammered home the insight that ideas count for nothing when there’s an old boys’ network and $$ at stake.

Things got worse: in 2009 I also got sucked into a very fraught local political issue, which nearly completely destroyed my sense of …being able to make sense. That disaster happened in the slipstream of another lowlight of 2008, the aftereffects of which have dragged on for over two years: a municipal election that swept into power an awful mayor and council, further alienating me from Victoria. The 2011 election promises no relief, incidentally.

Doubly alienated – from my academic self as well as my engaged civic self – I have spent the last many months floundering. I’ve thrown myself into other projects and subjects, but my output has gone to the lowest common denominator. I tried to make myself understood locally, and that was my personal Waterloo. So much time wasted… talking to …whom? The town closed ranks and shut me out.

And I have lost years of serious thinking. What an idiot I’ve been to waste my time like this.

Playing around

January 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm | In arts, authenticity, creativity, ideas, just_so | 2 Comments

Last week I put SketchBook MobileX (free app) on my iTouch. For the first time in a really long time, I had fun just doodling around, using my finger. Also for the first time, layers felt intuitively easy. Keep in mind, the screen on the iTouch is teeny-weeny, yet still it was fun to doodle around…

Ok, my images are crude enough – I haven’t made an effort to draw anything in a long long while, and boy, did I get flummoxed trying to get any kind of detail around mouths or eyes using just my finger – but the point is that I felt empowered by how easy it was to put something down via SketchBook MobileX.

Since using just my (relatively) big finger tip on the tiny iTouch screen did feel frustrating, I sprung for a Pogo Sketch stylus.

It’s less intuitive than using fingers, but on the limited real estate offered by the iTouch screen, it makes sense if you want more detail.

So, in that top sketch on the right ( –>), I first used the iTouch to take a photograph of Werner and me and imported it into SketchBook. (Don’t laugh – being able to put a photograph into an image manipulation interface was a major discovery for me; I never got the hang of the gimp, and my last foray into image editing was on a really basic/ cheap version of Photoshop half a dozen years ago…)

In this image, I used the stylus to doodle over the photograph in a second layer, just to fix the position of eyes/ noses/ mouths, etc. Once I had the outline, I continued working on that layer by adding some detail and coloring it a bit, and then I deleted the underlying photograph layer. Wow, that was fun!

(I know, I know! “How pathetic,” is what all the image manipulation nerds are thinking…)

The doodle below that is another free-from face, this time I was focusing on getting the eyes in about the right position, but mostly I was fixated on getting some architecture around the mouth. Incredibly, I used to know how to do this (hard to believe looking at the primitive scribbles here) – maybe, just maybe, this mobile-on-the-go sketching tool will get me to start re-learning this, and to look at how things (including faces) are built. And that would be amazing. I know I lost a big part of my ability to look – and to see – when I stopped drawing …when? three decades ago?

I can only imagine the pure joy of what it would feel like to draw on a bigger surface (like an iPad) – if I had that, I’d buy the upgrade (which has more features). 🙂 Yes, I could just get a big piece of paper, I know. But I’m so married to digital that paper presents a barrier. Putting a drawing directly into pixels, being able to send it via email or into my iPhoto collection – without scanner hassles – is just amazing to me.

Now, another interesting aspect is how this app lets me join several approaches to capturing an idea. The other day, while waiting for a coffee date and ruminating deeply about living in Victoria, I used the app to “write” a back-of-the-napkin thing – which is much looser than writing a “proper” text:


I felt loose enough to throw that out – and once I had that, I was able to make it “edgy,” as a longer-worded text. I’ll spare you my conclusions as formulated in the full text I ended up writing as there’s enough text here already, but basically, I need to get outta town… 😉

I’m looking forward to doodling around a lot more these days. Maybe I can eventually draw me a ticket.

Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.

Authenticity, sweet confection

September 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In authenticity, heritage, land_use, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

Another passage from Erve Chambers’s Native Tours (which I mentioned in Monday’s post) struck me today. I agree with Chambers’s thinking, and want to relate it to the City of Victoria’s maneuverings around heritage and tourism. But first, Chambers (I’ve added several emphases in bold):

We need to ask at this point whether there are any criteria by which we can usefully differentiate the authentic from the inauthentic. From my perspective, any such criteria would have to support the idea that authenticity is possible under the conditions of modernity. I remain unconvinced that the real is a thing of the past, or that the past was at any time more real than the present. Accordingly, my sense of the authentic is that it occurs under conditions in which people have significant control over their affairs, to the extent that they are able to play an active role in determining how changes occur in their actual settings. In this view, all cultures are dynamic by their very nature. Resistance to change is as much an act of deliberateness as is the will to adopt new customs and practices. Authentic cultures might not be able to predict their futures or to act in a wholly independent manner, but they have the wherewithal to play a significant role in participating in these processes that will shape their lives. In this respect, a community that has the ability to decide to tear down all its historic buildings in order to construct a golf course for tourists is more authentic than is another community that has been prohibited by higher authorities from doing the same thing in order to preserve the integrity of its past. This might seem like an extreme example, and its outcomes might not be to our liking. All the same, it reflects upon my suggestion that without significant degrees of autonomy, any notion of authenticity is meaningless. (pp.98-99)

There is always discussion in Victoria about whether or not our tourist image is “authentic.” One way for the city’s politicians and heritage advocates to make the case for authenticity in general (although it’s linked to tourism-authenticity specifically as well) is by promoting the city’s architectural heritage. Since a lot was ripped out in the heady days of “urban renewal” (which lasted well into the 1970s here) we don’t have that much of it left, but we have a few blocks in Old Town and Chinatown where some fine, small old buildings managed to survive. (The fine, large old buildings got the chop and stand no more: they were replaced by not-so-fine, small new buildings. Weird, but true.)

Part of our tourist image is that we’re quaint and 19th century – read: white 19th century, which is further refined to mean British. After all, the city is named for Queen Victoria, who in turn represents an era and a place and an empire. So that’s our tourist image.

Is it authentic? Hardly. The Olde England mythos was fabricated out of whole cloth during the city’s various economic slumps, when some people realized that tourism could save the city, now that sealing and whaling and various other get-yer-hands-dirty industries had dried up.

But our built heritage is supposed to be authentic.

What happens, though, when politicians and planners repress the citizens’ autonomy? As Chambers put it so convincingly: no autonomy, no authenticity

Case in point: the City of Victoria prevented Rogers’ Chocolates from altering its store interior. The Rogers family, owners and generations-long stewards of the heritage building on Government Street, were losing business (mostly from tourists) because their store interior is tiny. They wanted to push one wall back by 6 feet or so, annexing a storage space that lay behind the wall. The interior would have been fully preserved, the moved wall would simply have been moved and the space slightly enlarged.

The heritage advocate politicians went crazy, as did the heritage planners, and the city undertook the unprecedented step of slapping some kind of heritage designation on the building’s interior (this was a first), effectively preventing the owner from making the planned change. The owners in turn took the city to court and won their suit – if I recall correctly, something on the order of $650,000 in damages.

I suppose one could argue that taking the city (us, the taxpayers) to court and getting damages is evidence of lingering autonomy on the part of the heritage business owner. But I’d argue that the city (“higher authority”) effectively denied autonomy (“ability to decide”) to Rogers’ Chocolates, and thereby in one fell swoop ensured that “any notion of authenticity is meaningless” when it comes to the heritage of this building. Because the people who are the stakeholders and who should be able to decide were denied autonomy, the city has made that heritage inauthentic.

Some “higher authorities” seem to like it like that, even though it yields inauthenticity. Personally, I think it’s too high a price to pay.

Eschatology? Please just say no.

September 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm | In authenticity, creativity, ideas | 3 Comments

Had coffee with Elisa Yon this afternoon. We talked about a bunch of things, including her great experiences so far at Emily Carr University of Art & Design. As we talked about individualism and society (among other things), I tried (but failed) to remember the name of a French psychoanalyst whose book had impressed me mightily a couple of decades ago.

I got home and – googling to the rescue – found the information I sought: I was recalling Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel. The book I read was Creativity and Perversion. I liked it.

Usually, I’d link to the Wikipedia page of someone like Chasseguet-Smirgel, but her page is such a hatchet job that I won’t bother. Seriously, Wiki people? You think her biggest accomplishment was pissing off leftist Lacanians and intellectual anarchists? Oh, come on…

Every once in a while, I lull myself into believing that we’re beyond that sort of bullying. But then I turn around and realize, “nuh-uh, we’re not.” The bullying I refer to is the Left vs. Right nonsense that partisan diehards like to dish out.

It seems Chasseguet-Smirgel called bullshit on masturbatory anarchism (or self-indulgent anarchism, choose your label), and for this Deleuze and Guattari of Anti-Oedipus fame gave her a smack-down. (Ok, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.) Yes, I’m being harsh – but eschatologists who think that liberation lies in anarchy, or people who are so damn sure of the telos that they actually believe they know just what the future holds (excuse me while I gag): these people drive me crazy, and I include anyone of any political stripe in my no-go zone.

Co-incidentally, I happened to watch Steven Pinker‘s brilliant talk, A History of Violence (don’t have a direct-direct link – just click through on the second link and look for Pinker in the line-up: he’s the handsome curly-gray-haired guy with the bright green tie).

And somehow, what he had to say made me think that Anti-Oedipists and anarchists were off on a tangent and Chasseguet-Smirgel was more on track all along.

(To be continued.)

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