Life is Elsewhere

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I'm reading Kundera's Immortality right now. It's about the runner-up version of immortality. The one we believe we'll have to settle for. Tend to think we have some control over. More a writerly kind of immortality. A notoriety. A survival in men's minds. 

In one of the story's threads, Goethe and Hemingway become buddies in heaven.

Schiller (a fellow German poet, playwright, pretty boy) was best friends with Goethe in life, but Kundera says this was probably just a default result of the fact that Schiller was *there* in Germany -- at the right place, right time. It's no surprise he preferred Schiller since it would be a century before Hemingway was even breathing.

The tragedy of would-be friends parted by centuries reminds me of the scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams's psychiatrist character asks Will, played by Matt Damon, "Who challenges you? Who touches your soul?" 

Damon thinks for a moment, then says, "I got it. I got plenty. Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Frost, Locke.... "

"That's great," says Robin Williams, "but they're all dead."

Yes, they are dead, but then who? Maybe Will is more self-aware than Williams-as-therapist gives him credit for. And this means Kundera's right: Aliveness is a shame of a requisite for befriending people who'd invigorate us most. Sure, someone else might challenge us, but sometimes conversing with our contemporaries binds to the dialogue of our time.

I just got a new phone and I hate it.

Yesterday, I typed "*no*" and it turned into a Norwegian flag. (???) Guess I'm the only one left who wants to say "no" with a bold kind of emphasis (*no*) without stooping to the obnoxious, more shouty "NO." Clearly more people are now dropping Norwegian flags into their conversations.

I was so annoyed at being forced to abandon my *no* (and in the course of learning I couldn't type this anymore, unwittingly using a short-cut for an emoticon -- ick!) that in a bit of prove-a-point, protest (yes, a protest only I would understand, I know) I peppered my next few text conversations with completley extraneous flag icons from various countries (*uk*! *ir*! my global patriotism abounds! woo hoo!).

My Czech father got a *cz* in his text.

"Wow!" came his response. He's an engineer and he thought *cz* turning into a Czech flag was "A nice feature!" 

"Oh dear, non-verbal engineers really are the ones designing these things... aren't they?"

Images supposedly contain more content than words. But I see the strings of emoji and it reminds me of trying to communicate with Pac-Man. 

Accessible and more holistic people say. That's the argument. But if Shakespeare wrote in hieroglyphics, in emoticonography, who'd challenge Will Hunting? Kundera would have nobody to pair Goethe with in heaven. But maybe we're beyond that kind of profundity.

Julie is this lovely author I met recently who wrote a beautiful book about a learning-disabled girl called Lucy. You'd think this would make Lucy's speech all stunted and strange and cryptic -- kind of cringe in her limited misunderstanding of things -- but rather than the disability hindering her expression, her articulation is fresh. Eye-opening. Julie says the voice of Lucy came to her, and she feels like the voice of Lucy is really our collective unconscious speaking. 

With all this happy jappy endless-image emoticon nonsense going on, one would think our collective unconscious would be content with nothing more than images surging forth and receding. But linear words help us *understand* what we see, pin down what we feel. Language is a kind of self-knowledge... enables self-knowledge. A self-knowledge that can be passed on. So that we know the life that came before. Can know what our lives were. 

But of course expressing what our lives are - what they were last week - has been hijacked by a different bid for immortality: the high-res image, the instagram (for this cultural minute), the (self-executed!) selfie. 

And if we're lucky, selfies with people who may be more immortal than we are....

I'll have you know that in the course of taking this pic, Ciara & I totally bonded over mutual Blackberry nostalgia. (Much to Hanna's dismay -- she's our connection to "One, Two, Step" Ms. C... and the Swedish pouter in the top right-hand corner  -- as well as an almost-peskily insistent stumper-advocate for the iPhone).

The non-selfie image at the top is Klimt's Garden Path with Chickens. Time-frame-wise, we can think of Gustav Klimt as sort of a Goethe-Hemingway intermediary. I bet they all would have been friends. Chagall could paint the selfie. With a chicken. And a Norwegian flag. Peace out.

 

 

baa baa bold sheep... and salty sea frogs

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"ON GAMBLING

To a frog that's never left his pond the ocean seems like a gamble. Look what he's giving up: security, mastery of the world, recognition! The ocean frog just shakes his head. 'I can't really explain what it's like where I live, but someday I'll take you there.'"

from The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks

Happy Lunar New Year! x

 

Off in Focus

   "If you are focused you are harder to reach.

    If you are distracted you are available."   -- Savages

Saw the above quote on an album cover for the British post-punk band Savages at Black Gold on Court Street (a hole-in-the-wall record/coffee shop), and immediately wanted to hang it up on my door as a "Gone Fishing" sign. It sums up everything. About me. My silence. My quiet. About creators. About people I know on both sides of the proverbial Open/Closed sign who are perfectly described by its truth. The distracted welcome more distraction. The focused aren't interested in anything that will water down their resolve, their mission, their limited time.

And yet, we condemn the unreachable in this society. The ones who eschew distraction. Who don't welcome it.

In this weekend's New York Times, I read an article about how reading changes personalities. I.e. A person who read an excerpt of Chekhov, and then had their personality re-tested showed heir personality suddenly had more in common with what had been reflected in the reading (e.g. extroversion, openness to experience, etc.). They became more like what they'd read. BUT all reading was not equal. When people perceived they'd spent time reading "art" the more their personality changed. This was the great tipper of the scales. The "artistic" had the most sway.

I'd like to think there's some link. That artists are so off in their own world. So focused. So hard to reach. Maybe artists simply can't come and participate in this land of distraction in the same way others do. Come to the world as it is. So intent or in touch are they with their own unique conceptions and creations. 

Instead, they insist you see things as they do. And the bridge to their impenetrable minds is their work - a suspension bridge so powerful it can actually *change* whomever steps into their vision once they've created it. 

Seems to me that's worth staying focused for. When I'm back from fishing, let's feast. 

 

New Dreams Swim on Human Fins

 

"If you really want to get free, first you have to beat yourself.

The ideology is not only the world we live in, but especially the wrong ways we imagine how to escape. That precisely when you dream how to escape from reality, you just reproduce the same world." -- Slavoj Žižek

I'm always wondering about unseen structures. The architecture by which we put together what we value -- good coffee vs. wonderbread -- why we pursue things (or don't) and how these phantasms change. 

Perhaps to balance out my Western Buddhist mental diet (delivered through the filters of Oprah and Deepak and the like), and also because my cousin's wife is working on her Ph.D in language and we started talking philosophy after the pie at Thanksgiving, I've been listening to a couple philosophers of late... Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. Though maybe this doesn't balance my mental diet out at all, because it's remarkable how much Oprah and Žižek would seem to agree with each other. 

When it comes to change... though the term "change" implies a breaking away from, a removal, an absence of what was, that's too sudden and rigid. 

So let's say evolution. 

When it comes to evolution, over and over again, when you poke at the "how" (how we change society, how we make our collective us more compassionate, fulfilled, kind, lovely...) at its essence, the grand thinkers reveal the same granular idea: the you inside you.

You. Me.

That's the answer.

What are we but a billion of what we are? That's the beginning and end. Someone had to spawn the first fin, beat the others to the coconut-flavoured sea kelp in Hawaii's shallows -- encouraging the rest to grow their own.    

Dreams are our "not yet's." The call of the coconut-flavoured sea kelp. The abstract idea of a Hawaiian vacation. I'd have supposed they can go anywhere... but it's eye-opening to realize how much the "us," the me, the you, can pollute and infuse our never-seen reveries. Something I hadn't thought much about till I heard the Slovenian philosopher point this out.

Žižek highlights the limitation of dreams -- unless I look at where I'm weighed down so I can devise a new mechanism of motion, dare to confront myself and grow a new fin, then even when I paddle into my dreams, I start off using my old foot, which no doubt pulls to the right and has a grounded migration pattern.

And how can I get to new unseen structures, if I keep treading the path that funnels me to the same ones?