Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When the hamster wheel effect is reassuring

Spring's promise, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
I took this photo of our plum tree a week short of one year ago. The tree looks like this again, save for the morning fog that hasn't burned off yet. There's something reassuring about cycles, seasons, phases, and coming full circle. If we mess up or miss out, there's always next season to make up for it. The forgiving nature of nature.

Maybe that's why hamsters are perfectly content to run on their little wheels without ever seeming to get anywhere. Maybe they see something in that wheel we don't, in the way it comes around at them, reliable as always. We're all hamsters on the globe anyway.

On the other hand, there's something aggravating about the phrase "It's that time of year again" — aaaurrggghh! ClichĂ© overload. Particularly when said in the same breath as tax season, holidays, or gutter maintenance.

Are you a creature who finds comfort in routine? What is the routine that grounds you best? Or are you the restless soul who strikes out in search of something novel when things become too familiar?

P.S. Like clockwork, a week after I published this post, here it is in full bee-magnet mode.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

ImageChef Word Mosaic - ImageChef.com 

Loving thoughts to surround you when you are experiencing turmoil, struggle, sorrow, uncertainty, health challenges, quiet despair, and other afflictions of the human condition.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is it sacred to you?

All pictures are from Australia-based artist
Jason Hills' Facebook page 
"It’s dangerous to have a point of view, because just by taking a position, you create the opportunity for an opposing position.  It’s scary to be challenged, but it’s part of the deal.  I always see artists say they welcome dialogue and want people to talk about their work, but what they really mean is that they want praise." — April Winchell, founder of Regretsy

Upcycler, you done crossed the line.

You take forlorn figurines and paint gaudy colors and skulls over them. I get that. Homage to Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Mexican folk art and tattoo art.

It’s just that there are things, religious objects among them, that are sacred to some people. Evidently not to you, judging by your reworking the likenesses of the Holy Family and the Virgin Mary. Something in me strongly wants to call you out. To me, you’ve defaced them. You’ve defiled them. But wait, I want to think about my response to your art some more.

Some definitions, so we get on somewhat the same page:
Upcycling means making something better. The betterment is what distinguishes it from mere recycling. Is what you’re doing to religious statues making them better? Your statues certainly sell well. They’re edgy. They’re eye-catching. They raise eyebrows. Mine, if nobody else’s.

Deface means to mar the surface of, to disfigure.
Defile means to make impure for ceremonial use; to desecrate.
Desecrate means to divert from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.
Profane means characterized by irreverence or contempt for God, sacred principles or things.
Sacred means it’s holy, sanctified, set apart—“Can’t touch this!” as Hammer sang. Yes, I’m from that generation. Which probably explains much of my discomfort with your type of art.

Your artistic statement makes me squirm. What exactly are you saying? Is this an expression of your angst, or an outlet for your ennui? Would you stay with this style if it didn’t already have a niche?

I went to your Facebook page (noting your 1,500+ engaged fans with envy and not a small amount of befuddlement). You wrote:
“My work is influenced by old school tattoos, zombies, day of the dead and lowbrow art…I noticed an abundant supply of boring vintage statues, just like the ones in your Nannas (sic) house.  So I had a go at giving them a new life for a totally different environment to live in…”
True, these pieces were dusty discards you found at the thrift store. Their original owners may have been bored with them themselves. Or maybe they had passed away?

Death can be viewed as sacred. So it’s not your superimposition of death images that disturbs me. It’s the defacing of something that was originally created to represent the divine and holy.

When an object’s original possessor gives it away, does its purpose end? Does it become a free agent, to be snapped up and repurposed as its next owner sees fit? Such could be said of practically everything material, which allowed the rise of the global upcycling movement. Which I espouse with a passion myself.

Does artistic license mean a free pass to mess with things that are sacred to some? Does boredom? Is it a greater cause to keep things from the landfill, or to tend to the realm of the spiritual?

The tension between art and sensibility isn’t new. Look up photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the homoerotic/sadomasochistic exhibit that sparked “the culture wars.” In his case, the line being crossed was between conventional art—according to middle America, i.e., the Bible belt—and obscenity.

Then there was cross-wearing Madonna in the ‘80s and papal picture-ripping Sinead O’Connor in the ‘90s. Their acts were meant to provoke in a look-at-me-I-stand-against-something way.

I didn’t get the impression from your interview on forbes.com that you set out to create controversy. I don’t know if you’d mind it. What I’d like to know is if you considered the impact. Did you hesitate before your virgin foray into upcycling the Virgin Mary? Do you know anyone personally who has a reverence for what such objects represent? Did you try to find out what these objects mean to people of a certain faith?

Does the furor or lack thereof depend on who is being offended? Over on Regretsy, commenters of various backgrounds excoriated etsy shops selling what could loosely be called an interpretation of native American headdresses. It is politically incorrect to disrespect native Americans. Anti-Semitism is a serious career killer—ask Mel Gibson. Would anyone in the media dare diss a Muslim on his prayer rug? But popular American culture…sigh. Pop culture thumbs its nose at the Christian faith. It teases Tim Tebow for genuflecting.

So, young Jason, I just wanted to make you aware, if you weren’t already, that you’ve ruffled some feathers, crossed a line you may not have cared to acknowledge exists. Now carry on. Who am I to censor you?

"Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone.
That's sort of like dividing by zero, though. You'll get no criticism, but no delight either.
As for finding a homogeneous audience, good luck with that. The one thing that's true of all people is that they are different from one another. What delights one enrages the other.
Part of the deal." ~Seth Godin

If she ain't wrecked don't wreck her.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Would you rather be funny or likeable? A coffee shop conversation

This is you and me having an imaginary conversation about the choices we make and the ones made for us.
Come sit and shoot the breeze with me. We don't have to rush; we're not at the water cooler. We are people of leisure and deliberation—at least while you're reading my post. We can look around Queen Bean, this pretty little cafĂ© in downtown Modesto that I've beamed us both into on this unseasonably dry and sunny winter day.

Have you ever watched "This American Life"? My friend Noah of The Rambling Ark turned me onto it. I recorded and watched all the back episodes I could find. As an expat who has lived slightly more than half my life here in California, it asks just the sort of questions about life that I find intriguing. It's my cup of intelligent quirky.

One episode shows young male adolescents practicing stand-up at a kids' comedy camp. Boys at that age are about as familiar to me as a curling iron would be to a walnut farmer. What the helipad do we do with them? I raised three daughters. I wouldn't know how to talk about the interests of a man-in-the-making without resorting to pseudo-maternal pithyisms. So right there, the show had me captive. But that was just to start with.

One young man is flapping his just-hatched funny wings at the mic with some success. He reflects in voiceover mode, "When you're a different kind of kid, or even a different kind of person, it's sometimes hard to find people who think like you. And so the stage just becomes the highest ground, a place to stand out and look out over your friends, family and classmates, and say, 'Anyone out there? Anyone get me?' "

"And for some kids, being on stage isn't scary and awful. It's a relief."

"I feel like I'm taking OFF the mask. Like this is the real me. What I like to do for fun. I think it's like God's handicap: 'All right, well if you've been tortured your entire life, then I'm gonna make you funny.' Which will get you pretty far."

One of the adults there, I guess you could call her the comedy camp counselor, went all harsh on another one of the aspiring comics after his spiel. She commented, "It is better to be likeable than to be funny. That's one of the top rules of comedy."

"You have to act warm and inviting so we like you and we wanna hear what you have to say," she elaborated.

Now let's rewind and substitute creative for funny. Heck, let's do a few substitutions and see where that leads.

"All right, well if you've been tortured your entire life, then I'm gonna make you funny creative," God says in my version of this. I'd say that's a fair deal, wouldn't you? Almost explains the torment of your misfit years.

"It is better to be likeable than funny creative. That's one of the top rules of comedy success by the world's definitionYou have to act like you're not too hungry for approval, and be self-effacing so we like you buy what you create/hire you and pay you to do what you're told."
What do we conclude?

  • Likeable=Successful. If you are naturally likeable, it makes it a lot easier for people to want to help you succeed. The rest of us slobs have to work at being likeable. Because being creative is not enough. Being a genius, maybe—at the Steve Jobs level of genius.

  • Creativity=God's consolation prize for the not-always-likeable misfits who must forever strive on the treadmill of success, getting nowhere until someone decides to unplug the blasted thing, maybe you yourself, maybe your circumstances. Sounds like a glum prognosis for our disease, doesn't it? Maybe I just need another cup of sinfully whipped mocha.

The show's host, Ira Glass, comments toward the end, "I don't think you get to choose between funny and likeable. If you could just decide something like that for yourself, wouldn't everybody just choose both? Funniness chooses you." Just as creativity does. But not, apparently, likeability.

What I want to know is, does success choose us? Do we then strive to be likeable first? Is that what it really boils down to, all these tips about social networking and cultivating engagement?

Now that I've bummed you out without meaning to, the least I can do is send you back out to the non-cozy world with God's email to me (and you) today. It reached my inbox via my friend Christine. I suspect that when people ask, "God, are you listening?" half the time it's really they who aren't.
"God has set up seasons in our lives. It’s easy to get frustrated when our dreams aren’t coming to pass on our timetable, but every season is not harvest season. There are plowing seasons. There are planting seasons. There are watering seasons. Sure, we would love for every season to be a time of increase & good breaks but without the other seasons, we wouldn’t be prepared. For example, it’s during the plowing seasons that God brings issues to light that we need to deal with. He’s getting us prepared for promotion.

If you’re not making as much progress as you would like, the key is to not lose any ground. Don’t go backwards. Hold your position. Keep a good attitude and do the right thing even when it’s hard. When you do that, you are passing the test, and God promises that your due season of harvest is coming. Be encouraged because your appointed time of increase, favor and promotion is on its way, and He will fulfill every dream and desire He’s placed within your heart!"
This post wouldn't be complete without your half of the conversation in the comments below. Would you rather be funny or likeable? Creative, or successful at something you're not passionate about? Cluelessly happy, or mindful of life (and prone to analyzing every detail)? OK, that last question is my seed for a future post.