Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Twittering, frittering - a curmudgeon view

"I would like to share a few thoughts with you
about an activity that clearly marks the end
of civilization as we know it: Twittering."

Mr. Modem (Richard Sherman)
From Smart Computing, August, 2009 Issue

We know the benefits, indeed the stupendous global transformation the Internet has brought. The entire World Wide Web, like the Akashic Record, at your very fingertips. The Greatest Library the World Has Ever Known.

So now I'm going to make a few ornery comments about the "down side" of the internet. I submit that I seem to become a Curmudgeon whenever it's about 115 outside. The solution is to spend as much time as possible in movie theatres and in libraries. As time goes by, I'm getting better at napping, eating breakfast and lunch, meditating and doing my homework in such environments. So while browsing in air conditioned splendor at the library, I ran across Mr. Modem's article about the new internet rage, "twittering". Mr. Modem goes on to note,

"Twitter (www.twitter.com) is a free service predicated on the question "What are you doing?" By composing short 140 character messages, you can share with the entire world that you are standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, eating a tuna sandwich, or watching your dog chase its tail. If compulsively posting such digital drivel is not enough of an incentive to get out of bed in the morning--which is, of course, another event you'll want to share with others--you can also follow the mundane activities of other peoples' uneventful lives--including celebrities. At no time in the history of interpersonal communication has the phrase "get a life" been more appropriate."
Like I said in my letter to him (below) I think this man is on to something.

Dear Mr. Modem:

I just ran across your article in SMART COMPUTING about the "Twitter" phenomenon. I want to tell you that I think you are a Prophet.

I'm sure Twitter brings us one step closer to spitting not long words at each other but fast, efficient, pixels. Although I've given in and appear on Facebook now, to be honest, I find it depressing. I used to have friends I exchanged letters with, even phone calls. Now I have "friends" who share 10 word one-liners with me and 500 other "friends".

This is about as satisfying to me as eating a plastic donut. On a good day, I get group emails of cute sayings, which make me feel that I am dear to someone on the list, along with, of course, 50 or so others......in my darker, paranoid moments, I worry that the world has become obese with fast food and fast talk, substitutes for something more nourishing.

Your funny article "Twittering or Frittering" in the August, 2009 Issue of Smart Computing made me laugh. But it also made me wonder if we can no longer distinguish the difference between Quantity and Quality.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Peace Corps

Village in Benin

I attended a Peace Corps recruitment gathering here in Tucson - really inspired me, although it also gave me much to think on before I submit my application. I would say that about 1/4 of the people at the meeting were over 50. First, let me say what I'm inwardly asking myself........here I am, about to take a grueling ESL teachers course before I leave for D.C. in August, and I'm beginning the almost as grueling application process for the P.C.

Am I out of my mind? Probably. You've heard of the "Mid-Life Crisis"? What would one call this?

I've been able to educate myself somewhat by a few fantastic blogs - one, Arabiandrum.org is a network for PC blogs throughout the world, and is excellent if you want to read the thoughts, struggles, and meanderings of volunteers. I've enjoyed reading many of them, although I have yet to find a blog by a volunteer over 30, which bothers me. Where are the grandmothers who look like Jane Goodall I saw tromping through the tundra in the recruitment video show? I await their (hopefully encouraging) words of insight.......

Here's another excellent source of information - a blog for the writings of present and past PC volunteers (Peace Corps Writers).

I confess, I have some real regrets that I did not take advantage of the opportunity to join the Peace Corps when I was younger. What I am concerned about is not so much whether they can use me, or whether I would find the experience rewarding, but whether it's something too strenuous for me. Living in an isolated village in Benin is out of the question. However, living in Roumania and teaching at the University (as some PC are), or having a small apartment in Morocco with electric and hopefully running water......would probably seem luxurious enough to me.

PC in Roumania

I'll be exploring this further. It seems very strange, to be opening this possibility, this door, after a lifetime in the arts, mysticism, mythology. And it is also a kind of circle, as I remember being a teenager in Kabul (where my father worked for U.S. A.I.D.) My first job, at the age of 16, was sorting mail for Peace Corps volunteers at their office in Kabul.

Am I nuts? At an age when so many people I meet are taking up golfing (and boring me to death with their stories about grandchildren and endless physical ailments)........I want to teach English in Mold0va? Work with children in Zambia?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our Lady of the Saguaros

There are unexpected poetics along the trail, Sanctuary for the asking, and sometimes the Goddess appears at unexpected moments.

I felt like sharing this Shrine, with its Madonna standing at a trail head (or, at the end of the trail, depending on your perspective) near A Mountain in Tucson. A Mountain (which might be more appropriately called "A Hill") is an extinct cinder cone that features a large "A" on it's pointy side. The "A" came to special prominence in 2003, when patriots painted it red, white and blue as George Bush prepared to invade Iraq, and anti-war protesters painted it green in the middle of the night. For about 6 months, you never knew what color the "A" would be, but eventually the patriots won and it remains a garish red, white and blue.

At any rate, there is a wonderful trail nearby that people like myself take early in the morning. It rises gradually among a grove of saguaros, and affords a wide view of Tucson, and the sunrise among the Catalina Mountains.

I don't actually know what the shrine is called, but I call it "Our Lady of the Saguaros". Because, as you walk up the hill, you pass chapparell, medicine plant, sage, and impressive Saguaros. Native people called them the "fingers of God", and indeed, they often do seem to be making Mudras, telling slow stories about time, heat and the desert, if one can only find the means to read the sign language they speak.

Right now, having bloomed white flowers in April and May, their tops are crowned with pear shaped fruits, which the birds are tearing open to eat. It's quite wonderful to see those red tops, and masses of finches and doves gathered on the tops of the desert trees, happily feasting.

Here's another little poetic.

A Barbed Heart I discovered taking refuge among the Palos Verdes, the "green trees" of the desert.

May all Barbed Hearts find refuge among green groves.

May we all find "Our Lady" (by whatever name) waiting for us at the end, or beginning, of the Trail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lithographs from the '80's

"A House of Doors" (1986)

I found this portfolio recently...........a series of Lithographs I did in the mid 1980's. I find I still enjoy them. The entire collection was called "A HOUSE OF DOORS", and they were all photographic imagery collaged and worked on lithographic stones. The editions were about 10 each.

Some rooms diminish, some rooms compress.
Rooms can be tricky.
What I chiefly remember
are doors.

I live in a house of doors.

"Leda and the Swan" (1986)

"Day of Radience" (1986)

"When Rain Sang" (1985)

I Remember
White dresses I wore.
I can't remember the girl's name.

"Funny", she said
"How time takes the names out of things,
and bleaches the rest kind of transparent."

Funny. Chiefly,
I remember doors.

"Streetcar" (1986)

"Sybils" (1986)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wonder Boys (and Girls)

Last night I was watching one of my favorite films, Wonder Boys, based on the novel by Michael Chabon.

It stars Michael Douglas, who has left behind his roles as sex god and warrior cop, to become the rumpled, often stoned professor Grady Tripp, a novelist who teaches creative writing in Pittsburgh. Unable to finish his second novel, which has grown into a vast meandering tome of thousands of aimless pages, he is in the middle of a divorce, and is having an affair with with his boss's wife, who is also the Chancellor of the university. His chaotic life becomes further complicated by one of his talented, eccentric students, played by Tobey Maguire.

Towards the end of the movie, a car door flies open, and Professor Tripp's manuscript flies out, a white snowfall of typed pages, into the Allegheny river, hopelessly lost and fluttering nicely downstream. That part always gets me..........I usually rewind it. It's a moment of commedic loss, but also a kind of amazing grace. After that, everything else falls apart as the dishevelled professor ultimately finds his
way into a more authentic life.

I read a fabulous quote by Laurie Anderson recently in which she described herself as an "anthropologist" after a journalist asked her why she had chosen to work at MacDonald's and at an Amish farm. She explained that she was always trying to learn about new ways of living, new cultures, and found immersion the best way to keep her creativity and curiosity enlivened.

So.......I guess I'm leading up to something here. I'll indulge a ramble until I find my way.

I’m sitting at borders bookstore in Tucson, the only coffee shop I’ve found that does not have a piped in rock and roll station. I resent background noise, and find what is usually offered harsh, angry, ugly, screaming, painful, complaining, or hyperactive. These energies are constantly broadcast. Is there a restaurant or coffee shop that plays Gamelon, or Chopin or even "easy listening music" anymore? Nope. At any rate, you can think here. It is also beautifully air-conditioned, and since it’s 108 outside (a reasonably pleasant June day in Tucson)……….

Every time I come back to Tucson in high summer, my higher functioning seems to immediately cease. I become stressed, irritable, unable to think clearly, and I tend to enjoy venting as much road rage as I can get away with, probably because I lack both a radio and an air conditioner.

Good fore-giveness practice

Listening to my coffee clutch pal rant this morning didn’t improve my mood. J. is a true contemplative, who meditates daily, has a PhD and lives a very simplified life in a van that runs on biodiesal. Which is probably uncomfortable in the summer, and may be why his usually fascinating discussions about religion were today punctuated with denunciations of what he considers the hypocrisy of just about everyone, from Muktananda’s sex addiction to Sai Baba being a pedophile to Joseph Smith’s 50 wives to what he considers the Dali lama’s fake smile. Whew. That was exhausting. I hope he feels better tomorrow. I've had such rants myself.

Good fore-giveness practice.

I’m about to take a 6 week intensive course that will end with me receiving an ESL teaching certificate. This will be grueling, and no doubt I'll be twice as old as everyone else there. I'm doing this because next year, Great Spirit willing, I want to do volunteer work, and this would be a useful skill to take to the table. I'm also unemployed now, so some means to earn income is a good idea. I'm even applying to the Peace Corps. I'm also considering asking Dana Dakin if she can use me in Ghana in some way – and I am also considering volunteer opportunities in Morocco and Nepal.

All of this, of course, scares the hell out of me. I've spent so much of my life alone in studios, within the self-absorbed life of an artist. What if I get malaria? What if all there is to eat is yams and overripe bananas, or worse, monkey jerky? What if they have a revolution, and no one believes my story that I’m really a Canadian (should I get maple leaf earrings and a matching hat?) What if I have to share a dorm room with a Baptist missionary who aggressively worries about my soul? What if there are really, really big spiders? Would that test my own faith?

What if I get to meet aids orphans, what if I get to teach girls how to read or draw, what if I fall in love with a whole village.……and never want to return to this life? What if ……….

You see, I’ve had this dream about joining the Peace Corps, and going to Africa, for 30 years. If it’s ever going to happen, now is the time to put it into motion. And perhaps, to be candidly honest, sometimes I am weary of living in a "facebook world", a world where friendship seems to mean you share one paragraph group emails with 500 people, a world I've become increasingly out of step with. I say this as I sit here surrounded by laptops and cellphones and earplugs. Everyone is going a thousand miles an hour. I can't touch anyone anymore at that speed.

In some ways, I'm not unlike Professor Tripp. My magnus opus could flutter into a river somewhere, on the Camino to Compostella maybe.........and I'm not sure I'd care all that much, or if anyone would notice for that matter either. Impermanance. I really don't know who I am anymore.

Which might not be such a bad thing. There's a big world out there.