Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I always find myself in a curious conundrum when it comes to literature and music. I enjoy hearing and reading things that are original, or at least re-worked in a creative way. At the same time, I find myself postponing the experience of new things. Anyone who has made a mix CD and mailed it to me knows this well. While I’m happy to receive it, I’m not always anxious to listen to it. The same is true of artists that I like. Every time Sleater Kinney put out a new album, I would buy it, and then let it sit for days, sometimes weeks, before I would pop it into the CD player. I usually loved their previous album so much that I was afraid the next one would be a let-down. Never mind that they had a habit of putting out better and better albums each time; I always figured that the other shoe would drop, that one day I would become disillusioned, or feel that they had “lost” it. That never actually happened, but the expectation of disappointment is an interesting one.

With literature, I find the problem occurs when I walk into bookstores. I look at hundreds of books, and always end up choosing the same authors, or gravitating towards things I’ve read a hundred times. I’ve finally finished going through several weeks of the NY Times Book Review, and I found many things that sounded interesting. Yet, when I walk into a bookstore, I’m totally at a loss. I’m afraid to commit to buying something that I might not like. I’ll fly 3,000 miles to see a concert or art exhibit that I am uncertain of, but I hem and haw about buying a $12.95 paperback.

I’ve started to wonder: What is wrong with me? This isn’t a financial issue, and it’s not as though I’m afraid to take risks. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it has as much to do with my personal boundaries, in the way a relationship does. I’ve always been very sensitive when it comes to images. Something truly horrifying can frighten me for weeks. Something very sad can make me feel sad, or at least very disturbed, for an equally long time. In relationships, I am actually quite sensitive as well, and have had feelings seriously hurt enough times that I am very choosy about who I allow to cross my personal boundaries. If I think they’ll do damage with their tenancy in my heart, then they don’t get the lease. And if someone tries to break in, or even trespasses unknowingly, they get ejected rather aggressively. However, I do find that I’m willing to take relationship risks if the situation intuitively FEELS right.

All of this is also true about my relationship with music and literature. If I’m feeling rather isolationistic, then I may not want new influences intruding on my environment. It could be because I’m stressed out, just went through a major trauma, or had some other experience that makes me want to stick with the familiar.
I have days where I feel bolder and riskier, and this generally corresponds with an openness that I feel in personal interactions as well. I’m more likely to pick up something new when I’m in these moods. But I generally won’t make a sudden move towards a style of literature or music that I’m not familiar with, or have felt indifferent towards in the past. Again, as in relationships, I often have to be introduced to something new by someone whose opinion I respect.

The consequences of this are varied. A good friend may give me a new mix of songs, but the stress of not knowing if it will leave me exhilarated or flat often makes me avoid listening to it for awhile. Sometimes I listen to a piece of music or read a book just to oblige someone, a bit like going on a date at the urging of a friend—I do it more out of politeness and obligation than actual interest. But sometimes I’m taken by surprise, and really like what I hear or read. Or, I dismiss it at first, but rediscover it later, and really love it. It’s possible in the latter case that what I’m hearing or reading may suddenly and synchronously fit in with feelings I’m experiencing at that time, so it becomes a wonderful serendipity.

The one exception with regard to reading is non-fiction academic books on certain subjects of interest. I’m apt to pick up an academic book before I’ll pick up a novel. And why not? Non-fiction doesn’t cause the same kind of turmoil and emotion that a fiction book may elicit, unless is it about a very painful subject (the Holocaust, for instance).

All of this comes back to boundaries. Art, music, literature—and yes, religion (I can’t get through a blog post without mentioning that, can I?) are extremely personal, and often reflect our own issues and conflicts. I find that I want to pick and choose my emotional battles, and I keep fairly strict boundaries, hence the lack of “adventure” in these matters. But as I’ve noted before, life is not that controlled, and the most wonderful things often come about by accident. I think I’m better off allowing myself to have a happy accident than to remain so predictable in my tastes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Random American Weirdness

Sometimes living in America gives me a headache. Don't get me wrong--I love this country, and it has many great things about it. But nationalism always makes me cringe. There is something vaguely creepy and insincere about it. It's like the 21-year-old Egyptian I dated a few years ago--he was very sincere in telling me how much he loved me after knowing me for all of 2 hours. (Of course, he was adorable, so I just laughed and thought, "this will be fun for 15 minutes"). And, as predicted, he moved on in a short span of time. But that sort of a love declaration is like many public expressions of patriotism--just plain absurd and embarrassing.

For instance--I saw clips from this video on Found Footage Festival Volume 3:


If you got past the first verse, you're either too sentimental or very brave. I had 2 immediate thoughts while viewing this:

1. Emigration is sounding good.
2. The Onion had a great post-September-11 article on such songs: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/31472

With regard to my first thought, it's probably a case of the grass looking greener elsewhere. For instance, I love Britain, but then there's that thing called "Proms". After looking at some of the footage from that event, I realized that cheesy nationalism probably exists all over the world in some form, making it more like a human genetic defect. But I have grumbled before about large-scale public displays of feeling that are entirely false, so I won't repeat myself on that.

You have to admit, though, democracy is a great thing. Those of us living in democratic countries hardly do enough to exercise or protect our rights, but occasionally you get the very cool protest against a government or public figure. For instance, there was this recent protest against French president Nicholas Sarkozy:


No one would think up a protest like that in the United States. ("You say you hate this book? Well, we're ALL going to READ it now. So, Va te faire enculer!") It's a creative way of thumbing your nose at someone, and involves reading, so to the French people I say: très bien!

On another topic, I was recently made aware of a video produced by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). (Makes me think of LOLcats. :)). The video was created as a response to the various American states legalizing gay marriage. Massachusetts was the first, and surprisingly Iowa followed suit recently. Now New York has proposed legislation allowing gay marriage. I've always said, why not? If marriage isn't merely a business arrangement, you should marry whoever the heck you want to spend your life with, regardless.

But the National Organization for Marriage's video puzzled me. They show people saying things like:

"I'm afraid" (of what? Lewis Black's "gay mafia"?)
"I'm a California doctor who has to choose between my faith and my job." (What the hell does that have to do with anything?)
"My rights will be taken away." (Huh? How?)

Fortunately, the great Stephen Colbert was on the case with this one--here is a link to the original video, and Stephen's satire:


Monday, April 06, 2009

Hudson, New York Exhibitions and Such

I’ve been on the road quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. At the end of March I was in Washington, DC on business, and this past weekend I was in Hudson, New York to see the Peaceable Kingdom exhibition at the BCB Art Gallery on Warren Street.

The exhibition was lovely, with a very eclectic mix of art and photography relating to animals and nature. There were works from about 14 different artists. It included everything from black & white sketches of animals by Patti Smith, to silk-printed photographs by Susan Fowler-Gallagher, to the whimsical/folky art of Rodney Alan Greenblat. I was really struck by the artwork of Eric Rhein, who uses various materials to create images that look like sketches. There were also works by John Foxx at this exhibition, which was my main reason for attending; it’s one thing to look at digital artwork on the Internet, it’s quite another thing to view it “live”. While I enjoy looking at the photos of John’s work on the Quiet Man blog and posted to MySpace, seeing it up close was an eye-opening experience. You get the full effect of the prints without having to scroll or deal with computer resolution issues.

I chatted briefly with Bruce Bergmann, the owner of BCB Art, who had an exhibition of Foxx’s Cathedral Oceans back in 2004. Foxx is an occasional contributor there, and a future exhibition is a possibility. The opening was very successful—by the time I left the place was packed almost wall to wall. If you are in the Hudson area and want to check out the exhibition, it is running until April 17.

While in Hudson, I stayed at the Inn at the Hudson, owned by Dini Lamot and Windel Davis. I learned that Dini and Windel were in a band at the end of the Seventies/early Eighties called Human Sexual Response. (Coincidentally, they happened to open for Ultravox when they toured the U.S., in Boston). They’re both amazingly interesting guys, the Inn is just magnificent, and Dini is a fabulous cook, so I recommend the place highly.

Dini has had a rather interesting and varied career, and recently had an exhibition of his own digital artwork at the Carrie Haddad Gallery, also on Warren Street in Hudson. He gave me a quick slideshow of his works, under the title “Photoshop 101,” and it is an altered view of some of Hollywood’s female icons. You can take a look at the photos from that exhibit here—they were described as “extremely ironic and weirdly sincere”, and I can’t improve on that description.