Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pussy Riot!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve wanted to write about Pussy Riot for a long time. Actually I’ve just wanted to write the words Pussy Riot. And maybe a long time just means lately.

Outside loving the name of this feminista-punk-activist band, I know very little about them or the controversy they caused when they stormed an orthodox church in Moscow.
Anti-Putin feminist punks on trial in Moscow
Which caused me to think about how our society ingests, devours its female artist. Think Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston just lately.

Which led me to thinking about artists in Weimar Germany. The fourteen years of the Weimar era were marked by crazy explosive intellectual and creative productivity. Found this at Wiki:
Kirkus Reviews remarked upon how much Weimar art was political:
fiercely experimental, iconoclastic and left-leaning, spiritually hostile to big business and bourgeois society and at daggers drawn with Prussian militarism and authoritarianism. Not surprisingly, the old autocratic German establishment saw it as 'decadent art', a view shared by Adolf Hitler who became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. The public burning of 'unGerman books' by Nazi students on Unter den Linden on 10th May 1933 was but a symbolic confirmation of the catastrophe which befell not only Weimar art under Hitler but the whole tradition of enlightenment liberalism in Germany, a tradition whose origins went back to the 18th century city of Weimar, home to both Goethe and Schiller.

I was thinking particularly of Otto Dix which I believe the Art Institute of Chicago has a painting. He enjoyed the Weimar years and then fell out of favor with Hitler. Which isn’t such a bad thing—until you’re put into prison, demoted, lose your job and are forcibly conscripted. Again from wiki:
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they regarded Dix as a degenerate artist and had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. He later moved to Lake Constance in the southwest of Germany. Dix's paintings The Trench and War cripples were exhibited in the state-sponsored Munich 1937 exhibition of degenerate art, Entartete Kunst. They were later burned.
Dix, like all other practicing artists, was forced to join the Nazi government's Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of Goebbels' Cultural Ministry (Reichskulturkammer). Membership was mandatory for all artists in the Reich. Dix had to promise to paint only inoffensive landscapes. He still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals.[6]
In 1939 he was arrested on a trumped-up charge of being involved in a plot against Hitler (see Georg Elser), but was later released.
During World War II Dix was conscripted into the Volkssturm.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good Old Seamus

Good old Seamus, always there when you need him. Faithful to the end, a great one for a laugh. A boon companion. Like any good dog—you can trot him out to do tricks for the company, entertain your friends. Of course you don’t want him underfoot—just ever-present when you need him, when you’re in the mood.

The only real problem is what to do with him until you’re ready. Board and feed—of course you already do that for your fancy-pant horses (to the tune of $77,000 tax credit for Rafalca the dressage show beast). The pets are like family until time to go home—and then they have to ride on top of the car. But what is a little temporary inconvenience, a bit of discomfort—when one is so well loved and appreciated—most of the time?

From the Daily Kos: The FortuneBlog on CNN Money gives us a peak of an interview they did with Mitt Romney that will be published soon, in Fortune, where in he finally reveals some of the specific cuts he will make in his plan to balance the budget. Romney responded to this question by Fortune, "You've promised to cap government spending at 20% of GDP, Specifically, where will you cut?"

“There are three major areas I have focused on for reduction in spending. These are in many cases reductions which become larger and larger over time. So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs -- the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.”

Gee thanks for the appreciation.

Has anyone taken a minute to imagine the arts under a system of capitalism—for without a national theater all you will have are casinos staging burlesque and magic shows. Wal-Mart and Branson, Missouri will become the cultural arts mecca. Under Darwinian (if that word can be allowed) capitalism, survival of the richest, only those programs pulling in the bucks will make it—everything else: the experimental, the challenging art, the not-ready-for–prime-time sketches—face it anything that doesn’t line up lock step with a candidate’s ideology will be on the cutting block.

Unless we support arts for the people, by the people, for everyone.

Granted not everyone will agree on what is art. Not everyone will flock to see a crucifix floating in a bottle of urine. But, still, I thank God for Robert Maplethorp.
 Praise to the WPA in the 1930s for supporting all manner and skin-color and ethnicity of writers, printmakers, muralists, playwrights. Thank God for Lewis Hine for documenting the Great Depression.
 But who will tell this story: the tale of the Great Recession. Who will endeavor to create art with massive student debt and unemployment? Who will create when all funds are eliminated? What will we watch when all that’s on is The Bachelor, Wife Swap (yeah, bring it back)?

The rich history of America will one day disappear, buried twelve feet deep like the ancient ruins of other cultures that faded and sank when they forgot what was important. The arts is our identity, who we are. And one must decide which is worth keeping: Andy Warhol’s soup can

or perhaps the Thomas Kincaid framed print from the Highway Mall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Playing Solitaire

Since May I’ve been playing Solitaire.

It started in the rain, in the blueberry fields. I was gifted with unlimited time during an artist residency in a small town in Michigan. I’d wake up and spend myself writing. From 7 a.m. until dinner with small breaks for exercise and meals I’d revise. The work went well.

In the evenings I’d sit down to a light supper—either pancakes or lentils. I didn’t have many supplies and without a car, I’d have to bike to Coloma or Benton Harbor for groceries. Except it rained almost everyday for a week.

It was just me and my laptop—since the TV hardly worked and I didn’t have Internet access. I decided to check out the games. Hard to believe I hadn’t done it sooner, but I’d never been this bored in my entire life. I finally learned how to play Solitaire.

I loved the way the cards fanned out, even the sound effect of shuffling—you know, of stiff cards getting twacked at the corners—excited me, made me feel three-dimensional after a day on paper or rather a flat screen.

I love working puzzles. Not hypothetical word games or math equations. I need to know the end is in sight, that it’s there right around the corner. Solitaire became a metaphor for my revision—if only I could reshuffle the words like cards, move a scene to another chapter, play this or hold that for just the right moment. I started to feel I was going to make it to the last page of the last chapter, to the end, where the screen explodes into a drug-induced display of cards splitting like amoebas and reproducing until the entire screen is a montage of cards. Finishing my revision was not near as exciting.

Perhaps it was also about control. I had this little world on my desktop, and like a master of the universe I could deal or not deal. At any time I could start over with a new configuration. After a day of long, intense focus, I could flit, float, space out. Sometimes I found that I’d lost 3 or 4 hours playing Solitaire.

The game also fits my personality. Ever since I was a little kid I’d learned to content myself. Perhaps that was also what drove me to read and then later to write. These were solitary activities. Dealing with people presented a multitude of problems with seemingly no solution. The variables were endless. Whereas with writing, yes, there are 2 or 3 ways a story can go—but in revising I’m constantly looking for it to make sense. There are patterns to sentences, logic in how a story progresses, the order of the scenes and chapters. I can see it. A fictional character can do anything, but truthfully, if I am faithful to my protagonist (and to myself as a writer) I have to follow the plot points, the clues embedded; the character cannot go against personality or act counter to motivation. My whole life has been emblematic of a geeky loner. So playing Solitaire makes sense. It’s who I am.

After my residency I came home with a revision and enthusiasm for Solitaire. I didn’t think I’d continue to play after getting home—I’d be too busy. But, I’ve discovered the game in slightly different variations on each of the computers I use. I have a home computer with an older version, which allows me to right click and the cards fly into place. And a newer version on my work computer that seems somehow more archaic, where I have to manually move the cards with the mouse or right-click over the card. I keep expecting any random right-click to move them into place. One version allows me to scheme and one allows me speed. Either way my goal is to beat the game and win.

But it goes deeper than that. It’s about grief. About losing. So so much.

It’s my way of procrastinating, to avoid writing, doing real work. I stay busy right-clicking and twacking cards—instead of doing other stuff. My spare time finds me in front of the computer, filling the space with fanning cards.

I lost both my parents this past winter. Then came the opening of the will and, thus, the discovery that I’d been written out. This isn’t like an undo—where I can retrieve a card or fix a stupid mistake. This is forever. Even with an attorney or money for an attorney, even if I managed to fight and make a case—what would I have? I could rig a game of cards I guess, I’ve often thought if I played with a real deck of cards I’d easily cheat, but I’d miss the speed and that incredible sound effect that is absolutely perfect. Real cards are messy. I’d have the money, but never the satisfaction that I was included, provided for.

That’s the loss. The forever puzzle of my father’s last wish. I cannot figure it out. No matter how I replay it in my mind, I cannot come up with an answer—to why I was disinherited. Like a character working against type or acting without motivation, Dad surprised us all.

No, the cards have been played as they lay. I’ve worked myself into one of those Solitaire corners where nothing lines up. I have no more possible moves. In this game, there is no sense of control, that I can make it happen. I’m the one being re-arranged, pushed forward by an unseen hand.

I wish things could have ended differently.

. . . But for now I play, hoping to forget.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Story You’ve Never Heard

 Someone say free and you see me jump. Someone shout free and see how high I go.

Yeah, free is how I roll. And last night we had free tickets to a new film, Searching For Sugar Man.

My husband is on an e-mail list, possibly because he writes the most in-depth, thought-provoking reviews of anyone I’ve ever read. He would slit his own wrists if he borrowed a tag line or copped a phrase from a press release. No, no, no. He has to watch something a couple of times and then see two or three more films almost like it then write a review that maybe a couple people in the world recognize as extreme fantastic and then they link to it. Like orchids.

Last night’s movie was orchids sprouting in the weeds of Detroit—that good.

Mike Hertenstein will probably write his own review, but for now I’ll give you mine.

Imagine someone in the arts who works really hard and is objectively talented. A rare orchid. Now imagine that person actually gets recognition and lands A. record deal, B. publishing contract, C. is invited to have their own exhibition. Or fill in the blank. So things are coming along. It’s hard to sleep just thinking of the possibilities. Letterman! Opening for a famous rock band! Actually playing an arena! An arena full of paying adoring fans!!

Then nothing.

I’ve had a little experience with this. About ten years ago I had 2 books published in one year. And they were getting GREAT reviews. I was interviewed on NPR, on TV (an early Sunday morning show—but still!), I did readings all over Chicago, and, for some reason, I had a pocket of fans in Jamestown, New York and was invited there to give a reading. All expenses paid—so, yeah, I was jumping high.

Then nothing.

The book stopped charting, the calls stopped coming, and nobody took a second look at my next manuscript. Now I can’t sleep because I’m wondering what did I do wrong. Is there anyone out there who still gives a crap about my work? I google myself to see if I’m still here.

Sixto Rodriguez was born in Detroit to an immigrant family. He worked in one of the car factories, he was the sixth child—thus Sixto. He was a poet and a philosopher. He went to the beat of a different drummer. He wrote songs better than Bob Dylan, like how Bob Dylan wished he could write. He landed a record deal. He recorded two albums, one in London for Sussex Records, he toured, he captured the mind and imagination of a troubled generation living in troubled times, and then it all ended.

He slipped away.(see above clip)

Half a world away, he is famous. Everyone everywhere has his album or a bootleg of his album. Kids can recite his lyrics. More than that though, his words incite a revolution against systematic, military-enforced racism: the government of South Africa, where conservatives have not only clamped down on blacks, but have to keep the whites in order too. All media was heavily controlled in order to ensure a single message of Apartheid.

Yet somehow Rodriguez’s music got through. He was a sensation and gave hope to a generation of youth to rise up and resist. His lyrics drove other musicians to do the same. Suddenly young lions in Africa were coming alive.

Flash forward 40 years. A Swedish filmmaker is traveling the globe looking for stories to tell. He is visiting South Africa—post-Apartheid and he keeps hearing about a musician he has never heard of. He realizes he needs to tell the story of Rodriguez—the only problem is Rodriguez is dead.

This could be the end of the story—which I’m not going to tell because you need to see the movie for that. But let’s just say it is the perfect story for Detroit. A shrinking city. A city of ruins. A city where the light of glory has faded. Like Rodriguez, like most of us. We’ve slipped away.

It is a story of hope, that right when you think it’s the end, or see my previous post—when you think there is nothing you can do about anything because what’s bound to happen will happen anyway—there is a second act.

Oh, and by the way—check out Letterman on August 14th.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Panic Years—an Indecent Proposal, or really just flailing at the wind

Let’s see if I can bring this together.

As of late I’ve been pondering the future—and with the future comes the past, all that has gone on before. It’s hard not to worry.

There is so much paralyzing news: mass shootings, Voter Suppression, Citizens United, climate change. None of these, absolutely none of them are anything I can do anything about. Sometimes I wonder what happened to hope.

I’m not talking campaign slogans. Yes, Obama ran on hope, and IT WORKED. Four years ago. Notice how no one is chanting hope today?

Now I know the world continues to turn—whether we have hope or not. But hope makes the heart lighter, lifts the spirit. Raises the possibility that people do matter, that we can change the way things are.

I was nurtured in hope. Born into the 60s—never mind when—I was of a generation at the vanguard of change. How could we not—that whole, messy mass of Baby Boomers—leave its mark on mankind. Advertisers crafted their messages just for us; we were the engine of the new economy. The world turned on the post WWII generation. For a long time the answer did lie in modernity, what we could build, manufacture, formulate in labs. There was nothing we couldn’t do or a problem too big to solve. Finally polio could be eradicated or TB if there was a will, DNA decoded, and genome pools to explore. We could make nuclear power work, we could mine clean coal, drill safely for oil in fragile ocean environments because we’d engineered shut off valves.

There was so much hope—or was it hubris?

I remember a series of popular paperbacks with the titles Age of Science, Age of Reason, Age of Belief. I thought recently we’ve entered the Age of Screwed Over. What have we left for the post-Baby Boomers?

I know, I know they’re called Generation X or the Millennials. But, really, is that what they call themselves? Are there enough of them to constitute another force, to make a dent, to change the world?

Lately I hosted a band called The Panic Years. Now I wasn’t familiar with their music, so I googled them and read that they sing about loss and the struggle to find order. There was other stuff on their band page, lots more, but my mind stayed on that word: loss.

It’s more than 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Iraq war, all the wars. It’s that there is nothing no one can do about anything. This group of young people are pretty much the Age of Screwed Over. The Baby Boomers consumed most of the jobs, resources, we are responsible for the housing bubble, for Banks Too Big Too Fail, we voted Democratic, we voted Republican, we got to vote, drive cars, afford college (mostly). We got the hope. They got the short end of the tipping point. They got the hottest summer on record, health care out of reach, tons of student loan debt, and a housing market so riddled with scandal that mortgages seem analogous with scam. We got a free lunch; they don’t even get the leftovers.

Yeah, I’d be grieving too.

And, I’m not just talking the decline of American Exceptionalism (what the  . . .?). This is global. Young people everywhere are moving back home, into their parent’s basements, taking jobs as cashiers when they have law degrees, putting off families, putting off graduate school—or else going for broke, MORE schooling. In Spain 50% of young people are unemployed. Here in the US it’s hard to get specific, but 1 in every 3 graduating college has trouble finding a job in their field of training. In Tunisia where the Arab Spring started there was real frustration—so many people are educated, in fact OVER educated, and there was no room for advancement, no jobs available. Global Unemployment.

That truly 20th century belief that progress would solve all problems has been replaced by a deadening fatalism. Indeed, who is listening anymore?

I propose community.

It’s not going to be easy, but couldn’t a few of you, the Age of Screwed Over band together, squat in an abandoned house, buy a tear-down in Detroit, put up gardens, acquire chickens, hang some curtains, paint the outside pink, sunflower yellow, or the blue of wildflowers growing crazy in the empty lots. If the glory has gone, couldn’t something new be resurrected? Just for the moment, come together, find an old couch, put it on the porch, sit and sip a beer?

This isn’t progress or paying down the national debt, but community is a way for one person not to feel alone.