Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
“Don’t forget Question 28,” he said. It would be the most important one in the entire survey, he insinuated, and would help determine, in large measure, the rating that the manufacturer would give the dealership in the coming year.
You see, I was buying a new car.
This has happened to me on occasion throughout my adult life, of walking into a car dealership with the intended purpose of leaving in a brand new automobile, the best possible situation being one in which both salesman and customer feel that they got the best end of the deal.
I suppose this is the closest thing we have, in contemporary urban America, to horse trading. Oh, sure, you could drive way out to some rural location where equestrianism is more the norm, sit in some large sheet-metal barn and listen to a fast-talking auctioneer trade off a mare or foal or nag. That’d be real-to-life horse trading. But surely, somewhere back in the age prior to the automobile, folks must have experienced the same need to upgrade their means of transportation, held much the same displeasure at the prospect of having to muster up the courage to ride into town to do business with a horse trader, someone whose business it was to swindle you out of as much money in the transaction as possible. Kind of reminds you of the new-car buying experience of today, no?
I wonder if our forefathers ever heard lines such as “What’ll it get you to ride out of this corral on a new painted pony today?” Or if they were required to pay a visit to The Finance Guy prior to saddling up the old mare for the ride back to the ranch? Or offer you that special undercoat treatment, or the extended warranty, or the insurance against loss of valuation, or the one where they promise to keep making your payments in the eventuality of unemployment. The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, we are told. Or under the hood (or bonnet). On second thought, it might not be such a bad idea to, at the very least, take her for a test ride, kick her tires (hoping she doesn’t kick back), see how far she’ll go on a bucket of oats.
It’s not like I’m actually hurting for vehicles sitting in my driveway, mind you. Both of us, my wife and I, work at jobs outside of the home, on different schedules at opposite sides of town, so there’s no getting around the fact that we need several vehicles. One of our vehicles, however, is 14 years old, a faithful member of the stable that’s eventually going to be needing some major work. It’s a high-efficiency vehicle (a VW Jetta TDI diesel car) that’s a great commute car for those 30-mile round trips to work. Hence the reason why I found myself yesterday sitting in a local car showroom, dealing with the horse traders once again.
I remember my first car-buying experience, decades ago. I was young and naive, and probably got taken to the cleaners. But the thing that stands out in my memory is taking the test drive with the salesman, when the car ran out of gas on the interstate. Keep in mind that in 1981 people didn’t have the convenience of cell phones with which to call for assistance. The salesman, a young guy like myself, insisted that we both climb over the chain link fence that lined the freeway, up and through a slope of landscaping shrubs, to an adjoining office building from which to call the dealership and have someone come out with a can of gas. Right.
“Hell no,” I said. “How about this: I sit in the car and listen to the radio while you go get us some gas? I’m the customer, remember? And the customer is always right.” He made a rather disagreeable face, yet sauntered up to the fence, scrambled over it, dress pants and ironed shirt and tie notwithstanding, and some minutes later a truck pulled up behind the car with our gas.
I did end up buying that car, perhaps out of guilt; after all, guilt and salesmanship go hand in hand, comprising most of Chapter One of the High-Pressure Salesman’s Handbook. Or, perhaps the experience of running out of gas on the freeway during the test drive (like a memorable first date) served as a reminder that, contrary to that wonderful new-car smell that tends to put us (as if under the influence of some drug) into a temporary trance of euphoria, cars soon after purchase become as dirty and cluttered and comfortably familiar as one’s living room couch. They lose their luster of newness while simultaneously becoming as familiar as an old shoe.
We got into this habit of naming our cars, perhaps in an attempt to personify them, like family members or pets. I think it was something my wife has always done, her first car being Smiley, an old VW bug. When we married she was driving Clarise, an early-1980s GM crap-box. The name seemed appropriate, kind of frumpy and middle-aged. Myself, I’d never named my vehicles before, but my Toyota truck soon became known as Akio (a character from a local Toyota commercial, years before the dealership was bought out by some regional mega-chain) and, years later, the Ford Ranger that replaced it became known as Bubba. The Jetta has been known, for these last 14 years, as Deiter, named after that Saturday Night Live character of Mike Meyers’, the German dance club host, while the wife’s Subaru is known simply as Sparky. And so, now we have this cute little silvery Mazda 2 in the driveway, and I haven’t the foggiest idea what to name it (He? She?). I suppose a name will come eventually, kind of like taking a newborn baby home from the hospital and waiting for it to tell you it's name. It’s intended to be an inexpensive, high mileage, five-speed stick-shift go-cart-like city commuting car. It doesn’t have quite the highway efficiency of a new VW TDI, but then again it’s also $10K cheaper. Oh, and just to reinforce my point: remember those old-time family horses from a bygone era? They, too, frequently had names given to them. So we’re not entirely out on thin ice with this car-naming thing.
It’s funny (and sad) how cars have come to dominate the landscape of contemporary America. Entire infrastructure have been built up, since WWII, around the presumption of cheap cars fueled with cheap gas. In our neighborhood, built at a time (the early 1960s) when the biggest threat were H-bombs, not mad Islamists, the typical family only had one car, and the houses were built accordingly. We now see situations, like ours, of driveways (and even front yards) cluttered with cars, every adult-aged family member requiring their own form of transportation. Out here in the Wild West, with it's wide open spaces and frequently harsh climate, the alternatives of motor scooters or transit buses just don’t seem to work as well as they might in a more condensed urban environment. The West was built up around the automobile, it would seem.
Yet I am reminded of a gentler era. Our daughter lives in an historic part of town, in a neighborhood of victorian-era homes built in the 1880s and 1890s, after the railroad came to town, a neighborhood devoid of driveways and garage doors, just nice landscaped yards and sidewalks and screened-in, elevated porches. The more utilitarian parts of one’s domicile were hidden out back, accessed via alleyway behind each row of homes, in whose backyards are standalone garages, most of them originally carriage houses, and from which trash would be picked up (or originally just burned) out of sight from the gentler, more formal front setting. These neighborhoods were designed around the idea that the utilitarian aspect of one’s life should be out of sight, that aesthetics were just as important to real estate development as are statistics of how many lots can be crammed into a parcel of land.
Nowadays, these older, once genteel neighborhood streets are cluttered with rows of cars parked curbside, the rear alleyways now little used, their fences and gates sagging or falling down, while on trash days the already crowded curbs out front are further jumbled with plastic trash barrels which, after being emptied, are haphazardly dropped in crooked misalignment to fall over on their sides like a row of drunken sailors. It seems we’ve traded the aesthetics of a bygone era, where cars (or horses) were hidden from plain sight, for the ugly convenience of the ubiquitous automobile that seems to multiply like an infestation of roaches.
One begins to appreciate the extent of the automotive infestation present in our culture when you take a drive, out of town, to the rows and rows of salvage yards, piled high into the sky, gleaming in the harsh light with bent and tortured masses of sheet metal, from every conceivable brand and make, formerly centerpieces of one’s domestic suburban life, like family members, perhaps even with given names like Clarise, Akio, Bubba or Sparky, but now dismembered, unassembled, deconstructed into atomic bits and parts that might become donor organs for someone else’s aging or ailing family sedan. The life-cycle of the automobile resembles some Asimov-like future dystopia where our once mechanical servants have come to dominate the culture, like some mechanical infestation of unhindered cybernetic inbreeding gone awry, fueled by wars of empire and conquest in far-off corners of the globe whose names become mere abstractions intoned by the talking heads of the tele-screens.
I tapped out these words this morning, letter by letter, onto the glass screen of my iPad while sitting in bed, after which I walked out to the driveway into the cool, brisk air, where there it sat, this shiny, silvery little subcompact, and I’m smitten all over again and don’t regret the least bit my decision, and of the presence of a new family member; although my dear wife is beginning to mourn the eventual retirement of Deiter, perhaps to another home, or a project for some bio-diesel enthusiast, or to the salvage yard and that pile of discarded components that we don’t want to think about right now.
Cars, I remind myself, are a necessary evil, the most considerate choice being not to own one at all; but until there exists some reasonable alternatives, we’ll continue our contribution to the trashing of Spaceship Earth, a question that I ponder, with all of these other thoughts, while awaiting The Survey and Question 28.
Monday, February 13, 2012
At Peace With the Process
Are you at peace with your creative other half? You did know that you have that other person living alongside and within you, right? Because otherwise, you’ll be a miserable person, trying to eke out an existence while purposefully ignoring that most important Other Person who is equally as much you as you are you.
We seem to do this all too easily, ignoring our creative inner self while the logical, rational, pragmatic self runs the show, steers the boat, at least for awhile, until the ship runs aground and we find out that our egomaniac control-freak self doesn’t know quite what the hell it’s doing, and actually requires the assistance of someone who intuitively knows the waters, knows the hazards that aren’t on the navigational charts, can steer us clear if we’d but listen to that still small voice, like that of the introvert, a voice that in most people is usually quiet and mellow.
Now, I’m going to recommend that you do something entirely radical, which is to lock your raving lunatic control-freak logician brain up in some padded room, and instead release your ephemeral, creative self upon the world - a world that in itself needs much less of the raving-lunatic-with-ego type, running around and starting wars everywhere, and more of the gentle, creative spirit type, roaming about the countryside bestowing gifts upon those lurking unawares.
You probably weren’t aware of the two of you living alongside one another, all of these years, but now that the cat is out of the bag, I can tell you that you are going to be much less miserable when you can acknowledge your entire self. Because that’s what this is really all about, finding the entirety of yourself. A cliche, for sure - and I understand that - but that doesn’t make it any less true, now does it?
Okay, let’s start with some basic truth: you suck. There, it’s nice to get the hard part out of the way, right up front. Now, this probably wasn't entirely news to you, truth be told. But we all suck, pretty much, all the time. And the reason for this is primarily because we permit our control-freak selves to run the show, while our intuitive, peace-seeking self is relegated to a background role. What we need are some tools to permit that hidden, inner creative self to be expressed openly. An invitation, of sorts.
What this has to do with is art, of course, since art-making is a majorly important way to release and grow one’s creative instinct. Yet, in all fairness, I do realize that not all art is happy-smiley, some of it is in fact very confrontational, direct and not easily digested by the faint of heart. And that is as it should be. But crucial to a deeper understanding of creative intent is the realization that artists derive their inspiration from some deep well that at times seems limitless, while at other times seems fleeting, ephemeral even, but nonetheless remains a constant source of inspired creativity, presenting the possibility of drink from a source hidden yet deeply rooted.
It might come as a surprise for some of us to discover that we have any creativity at all, given the reality that our educational system, at least here in America, is geared for producing a fleet of corporate wage slaves (at best), rather than extolling the virtues of a more liberal arts education. The Arts seem to be pretty far down on the priority list of most school districts, for instance, and are often the first programs to get cut when budgets turn red.
It is no wonder that we often find it difficult letting our creative Other Self out of the closet when there seems to exist very few support systems through which to nurture and grow. It becomes plainly evident that in the American culture, the arts are often frowned upon, are often misunderstood, are frequently denigrated, politicized or misrepresented in the public eye. One need only to mention the acronym “NEA” for example, and the whole issue of taxpayer support of the arts comes once again into the forefront. The Average Joe (no relation to Your’s Truly) has an innate suspicion, through lack of educated insight, of things like abstract and avant-garde art, for instance. Ironically, the few institutions that seem to consistently support the arts do so at a cost, that being the assimilation of the artist into the milieu of the institutional culture. Maintaining independence while remaining funded seems to be the holy grail. Patronage of the arts remains a troublesome area in American culture, with many arts-related groups and organizations struggling to survive in an era of diminishing social support.
The commodification of art for the purposes of commercialism within popular culture illustrates the no-man’s-land between the artist as starving prophet to the culture and the artist as selling out to the system. There seems to be a very narrow happy middle ground, as if there exists virtually no creative middle-class, juxtaposed alongside this huge cultural overlap between fine art, popular culture and entertainment. The new technologies of media seem to possess an insatiable appetite for new material from which to consume, such that popular culture forages off of the finer arts, appropriating and repurposing the arts into commercial commodity products. This inevitably leads to an innate cynicism of all things art-related, as what was once an intelligence-based art becomes transformed into memes of popular fad, empty of any deeper meaning other than its commercial value.
It is within this cultural morass, this creative no-man’s-land, that the struggling creative must somehow find root of sufficient depth to permit real and lasting growth to commence, even in an environment where one’s time is divided between the responsibilities of job and family, when there seems to be little left over from which to eke out a cultivated inner life.
What I’m suggesting is that your Creative Inner Self should be permitted to dominate in whatever it is that you find yourself involved with, every moment of every hour of every day. The concept is best described as an artistic, creative lifestyle. Your Inner Self should be the one pushing the shopping cart, driving the car or scrubbing the potty. Your Inner Self should be the one in attendance at the office meeting, or while responding to email, or when preparing a meal. It becomes an act of purposeful volition, this relinquishment of control to a more intuitive, creative You. It is an act of faith, entirely out of character with our normally overt selves, to act upon the belief that there exists within us some limitless inner fountain whose end purpose we cannot fathom, yet whose course we inevitably must follow. It becomes, in practice, a purposeful recreating of ourselves on a daily basis, requiring the normally abrasive personality to seek peace with others, or the normally meek to strive to engage with boldness relationships that would otherwise flounder.
I am naturally skeptical of the claims of the get-rich-quick con-artist, the shill of the huckster salesman or the rant of the self-improvement guru. I hold little regard for the notion that there are magical shortcuts in this life that would promise some fictitious easing of the pain that is intrinsic to this existence, only that one must be true to self, to know self, to love self. What I’m suggesting is not mere panacea, but engagement with a process aimed at a deeper fulfillment in the deepest parts of our being.
On an almost daily basis, I am aware of a constant hunger within me to express myself through creativity, and I can feel, in my bones and sinew, when I am at a fallow point in my creative life. I have learned to listen to those hunger pangs and to enact rituals of creative release, purposefully intent upon maximizing my creative returns from the time and effort invested therein. Only through habitually feeding that Inner Self can it grow and develop.
Yet, despite this constant striving to remain creative, I have disdain for the term “artist,” for it implies a hierarchy of those especially endowed with creative talent, above and beyond that of us mere mortals. Of course, it profits the economic systems built up around the arts world to prolong these misconceptions, but I maintain that creativity is a natural offshoot of the human condition and that, just as it is a normal function for humans to breathe, eat and procreate, so too is it normal for humans to create through other, nonbiological means. There is evidence to support the conclusion that this creative tendency in humans is somehow biological, and dates as far back into the past as the physical artifacts of our ancestors can be found, all of which suggest some kind of intrinsic creative ability at work within the very fabric of that which makes us human; that what separated us from our biological predecessors to make us human is that self-same spark of creativity.
We are left with the question of how we got into the mess we find ourselves in at the present time when it seems, to the average person in western culture, that being naturally creative is an abnormality to be suppressed rather than nurtured. There must, it is presumed, be some factor at work within the gears and cogs of modernity which suppress our innate creative selves, of which it would be to our benefit to understand and overcome.
One factor that is crucial to a well-cultivated life is balance. It is all too easy to slump into the couch-potato role of media consumer, an excess of which can short-circuit our creative juices, leaving us fallow and impotent. Yet, we need some creative inspiration to prime the pump - I certainly do. A carefully tended diet of just the right amounts and kinds of media, not too little and not too much, can inspire us to further explore the inspiration from within. A careful balance between commercial television, videos, photography, music, reading and participation in local arts venues becomes an important source of constant creative inspiration from which to draw energy from, becoming a lifeline for our inner vitality. Yet, these constant and varied sources of input need to be balanced by quiet time, alone with just our thoughts, disconnected and off-grid. Call it contemplation or meditation, but we need to permit our inner selves to process what would otherwise be just an impenetrable wall of noise, to permit the discernment of patterns of knowledge from mere chaos.
Creativity requires inspiration, thought and time. Often, we are lacking some or all of these essential ingredients. The burden of our physical existence seems to be centered around our work life even more so than family life, placing any hope for creative expression in a distant third place. Yet it becomes obvious that a restructuring is in order, if creative expression is to come to the forefront in all that we do. I am of the opinion that it is possible to remain in a near-constant state of creative expression in whatever it is we do, provided we are allotted time to think and draw upon our inner inspiration.
There are yet more lessons to be learned for oneself, and taught to others similarly on the creative path, but we cannot speak of these right now, for they can only be experienced by each person for themselves. Some things have to first be experienced; they cannot be imparted to one’s being through any other way. We’ve got to, each one of us, take those first steps on what will become a lifelong journey of exploration.
Sometimes our careers and vocations, or the struggle of merely making ends meet, taxes us of all further time and energy, leaving little resources from which to draw from. It is in these moments that we have a decision to make, either to firmly choose to alter one’s priorities and activities, or to continue on as we have been going and face the consequences of a suppressed inner creativity. The choice is fundamentally whether we choose to live (on our own terms) or die (for someone else’s benefit).
Ultimately, it is an easy choice to make, once we realize that we are innately fitted for the creative life, it being built into our very DNA. What becomes obvious is that our artificial culture round about us is the thing that is out of balance, putting requirements upon us that are entirely out of keeping with our natural abilities and desires. What is required for the creative life of the culture at large to blossom is a restructuring, a social revolution in the manner in which we work and communicate. This creative revolution can only happen one person at a time, spreading virally from person to person and community to community. The burden of starting this revolution is upon each one of us, but can only be worked out individually, a burden each one of us must bear. That is what will bring us at peace with the creative process.
(Posted via IA Writer on iPad2, photo via Hipstamatic app on iPadG2.)
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
The Bones of the Trees
Postscript: Another comment about my workflow. With the addition of a camera connection kit for the iPad2, I can now shoot high-quality JPEG images on my Lumix G1 and transfer them to the tablet, then process them with apps like Simply B&W. The image of the typecast was also shot with the G1.
As for the Big Black Box that sits under my desk (subject of a previous entry), I shot some RAW images with the G1 and transferred them to the PC, then processed some in Silky Pix. Slow. Really slow. As in, almost takes forever (slight exaggeration), and several of the RAW files won't save as JPEGs, some sort of glitch that I haven't sorted out. Despite the slightly better image quality with the RAW files, the ease of use with this new method, and lack of glitches and crashes, really has me convinced of shooting JPEGs in the G1 and transferring them to the tablet for processing and upload.
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Postscript: Another typecast that was photographed using the iPad2's camera, this time with a pair of bright lights illuminating the page as with a copy stand. I used the Simply B+W app to adjust the contrast and brightness, and cropped the border of the image using the iPad's crop feature built into its photo viewer. Uploaded to Flickr via email, the typecast image was then rotated into portrait mode.
As for the lead-in photo, it was taken with the Hipstamatic app, which I'm finding is the best app for getting interesting, moody photos with little or no fuss.
Typed while sitting in bed with the Olivetti on a lap desk. I'm starting to like this work-flow.
Monday, February 06, 2012
Banning the Big Black Box
Postscript: Okay, not the best photo of a typewritten page. I could have used a second light source at the bottom of the page, like one would do with a copy stand. As for the iPad2's camera, it's adequate, in the sense that one can read what's been written, but you don't get the sense of the texture of the paper, like I'm used to showing with my scanned typecasts. I'm thing also about making some sort of crude stand to hold the tablet directly over the sheet to be copied, rather than using my coffee-jitter hands, as I did here.
But, the typecast and it's accompanying photo (along with this note) were all done, within minutes, using merely the iPad2 and my humble WiFi signal. So, despite the flaws, this method might get me doing many more stream-of-consciousness typecast blog posts, which is a good thing, given the proximity of my various portable typewriters to my daily domestic life. As for The Big Black Box, it still sits menacingly under my desk, the repository of a hundred gigabytes or so of photography from the last decade. Like a junk yard dog, it has a purpose (keeping out the bad guys), but you don't want it greeting customers up front.
(Typecast via Olivetti Lettera 22, photos via iPad2)