Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dash Snow Dies; Nobody Notices

Dash Snow, the artist who is best known for creating a hamster nest out of shredded phone books in a London hotel room, is predictably dead of a heroin overdose. Tragically, not only was Michael Jackson's funeral the same week, but global infatuation with trust fund brats who bite the thousands of hands which feed them is at the lowest ebb of the century. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

It was only after speaking truth and listening for a few decades that I realized a couple of things; first, that you have to repeat yourself a lot, matching your actions to your words, before anyone believes you about certain things. And second, the reason the dull and the ignorant are dull and ignorant is that they don't listen back.

Truthful statements with which I tested these propositions: "I'm an artist." "I'm moving to Mexico." "I'm moving to New York." "I love you."

It was a full decade before my nuclear family stopped tacitly expecting me to get over this 'artist' delusion and go to medical school. I had lived in Mexico for three years, and Brooklyn for two, before people stopped sending me invitations to events in Northern California with 'RSVP' on them. And some people I just stopped loving.

One thing I've learned, from running doggedly against the wind of other people's expectations for years, is that 'individualism' is a myth. Success requires community support. Look at the 'acknowledgments' on any CD, film, flyleaf, or program; the more financially and artistically successful the creation, the longer the thank-yous. The visual arts are no exception, except that visual artists tend to be even more bashful and egoistic than the average actor. Thus we have trouble asking for help, and resist acknowledging the help we get.

Moreover, the institutions which are allegedly in place for 'supporting' visual artists, such as schools, museums, galleries, and non-profit organizations, act as parasitic forces on the vast majority of artists. The art school I attended sucked its students financially dry while sabotaging their careers. Most juried exhibitions are funded by the application fees of rejected artists; grants and residencies are often awarded for political reasons rather than artistic ones; museum collections are still heavily weighted toward the white, the male and the wealthy.

It's easy to say that all of this shouldn't matter. A Real Artist will transcend all of that. And this is, to a certain extent, true. Creative people will find ways to survive, albeit not always comfortably.

But I drove myself to the verge of exhaustion, bankruptcy and despair by believing that people believed me, and now I'm wondering if it's worth it. Because if 'art' is not assessed according to the values with which it is created, it might as well not exist.

To be continued.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

Ever since I can remember, the Desiderata was on my mother's dressing table, framed. I didn't think of it as a 'poem,' so much as just 'the Desiderata.' I absorbed it wholesale while having my hair dried as a child, and when I grew up and left home, it only seemed natural to print up a copy, frame it, and hang it by my own dressing table. My last ex-boyfriend from hell once suggested that I take it down and put up some other, different inspirational words, since 'those have been there long enough.' What a nitwit. The ex-boyfriend is long gone, the words are still there.

But lately, in this time of economic struggle and career confusion, I've been thinking about the ways in which my principles have shaped my life. Have they been good ones? Should I keep them? Or should I go in search of some other principles, ones which might bring me--well, if I can't have fame and fortune, solvency would be nice.

So I am inspired to re-examine the Desiderata in light of its specific effects on my life, hitherto. Line by line. If you get bored, there's the whole wide Internet out there. Hie thee hence.

As it happens, I do go placidly amid the noise and haste, and always have. Even when rioting in San Francisco in the early 90's, I was placid. That's probably why I didn't get arrested. I carry with me a serenity that is like a rope attached to an anchor in the center of the earth. When other people are panicking around me, flailing and gibbering and generating drama, I get progressively more placid and serene, in order to balance them out.

This is probably really annoying to people who aren't emotional parasites, which is probably why I have had a lifelong habit of attracting emotional parasites. (Present company excepted; emotional parasites don't read.) In latter years I have found that allowing myself to occasionally freak out--to show weakness and confusion, to admit that I am not, in fact, the Buddha--has allowed me to grow closer to healthy people, and keep the people at bay who like to put serene people on pedestals, then knock them off those pedestals and stomp on them.

Lesson learned: stay away from folks bearing pedestals.

I do indeed remember what peace there may be in silence. If a person has a problem with silence--that companionable silence of sitting in the same room, reading or working alongside one another for hours on end--that's a Red Flag. As in, "I can't do my Pilates workout/work in the garden/have sex with you, with you sitting there reading/sleeping on the couch/sewing like that. Stop it."

Silence is all the more peaceful when one of these individuals has left the building forever.

To be continued.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

At Last, Some Light in This Recession

Crocs are going under, not a moment too soon.
"The company's toast," said Damon Vickers, who manages an investment fund at Nine Points Capital Partners in Seattle. "They're zombie-ish. They're dead and they don't know it."
Normally, I am a fan of indestructible footgear, but you look at a pair of Crocs, and you think 'landfill.' Those are some ugly shoes. I have only ever seen one person wearing Crocs who was able to get away with it; she was a student at SVA, and I think her outfit involved some sort of fifties-style dress with cherries and an apron. The Crocs were red, and they looked properly satirical.

But you would think that any company which lives by fashion would understand that satire has a very short dateline. What on earth did they expect, that after selling 100 million pairs of hideous, non-bio-degradable shoes in seven years, that people wouldn't get sick of them? Already?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bad Mommies

Gosh, a lot has changed since I was twelve years old.
Bridget Kevane, a professor of Latin American and Latino literature at Montana State University, drove her three kids and two of their friends — two 12-year-old girls, and three younger kids, age 8, 7 and 3 — to a mall near their home in Bozeman. She put the 12-year-olds in charge, and told them not to leave the younger kids alone. She ordered that the 3-year-old remain in her stroller. She told them to call her on their cell phone if they needed her.

And then she drove home for some rest.

About an hour later, she was summoned back to the mall by the police, who charged her with endangering the welfare of her children.
When I was twelve, the lady down the street knocked on our front door and said, "I see you have a girl about baby-sitting age. Can she come over on Thursday?"

We didn't know this family; they'd moved in a couple of months earlier. Their kids were three, four and six. The three-year old was adopted, after having been removed from an abusive home. She was recovering from some sort of accident involving Drano, and its corrosive effects on two-year-old intestinal tracts.

All I remember about my first twelve-year-old babysitting experience was that at least one of the kids climbed a tree, that paying attention to three kids at once was a challenge, and that everything was fine. I became their favorite baby-sitter, because I played. The girl down the street just talked on the phone and ignored them. "She didn't last," the kids informed me.

I got paid $1.25 an hour. By senior year in high school, I topped out at a whopping $2/hr., except for the H---ls, who paid me twenty bucks an evening, even though their toddler went to bed before I got there and never woke up. Mr. H. drank Scotch while driving me home and made passes at me, which I did not notice as such, because married men with children must leave their wives before dating seventeen-year-olds, and I was no home-wrecker.

BTW, the mall-dropping-off incident happened in Bozeman, Montana.
An outsider, or someone used to a bigger, more crowded way of living, might be shocked to know that I left children that young in the care of two twelve-year-olds. But these kids were a pack. They grew up together in a neighborhood full of children. They walk to and from their local schools together, play together, and frequently spend time at each other’s homes.
My brother got paid $10/hr for mowing lawns. When I started applying for Real Jobs at the age of sixteen, four years of babysitting wasn't considered actual work experience.

According to the majority of commenters on Judith Warner's column, leaving five kids at the mall in Bozeman is 'child abuse and abandonment.'


Judith Warner thinks that this incident illustrates pervasive societal hatred of educated women. I think it illustrates a backlash in parenting philosophy since the laissez-faire seventies, plus an unhealthy dose of mass-media-induced paranoia. Plus a bad case of the butt-inskis.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Toward a Sane Conservatism

No, it's not an oxymoron, although the way the right wing has been behaving lately, you'd never know it.

Contrary to the assumptions of a few of my dear readers, I do not wish a 40-year stint in the wilderness on the Republican Party. I just wish that so-called 'conservatives' would develop a greater capacity for cognitive complexity. As poor, beleaguered David Frum can attest, most of the right wing is currently undergoing a fatal Failure to Discriminate among some all-important conceptual nuances. So, a primer:

Limited government is not synonymous with corrupt, incompetent government.

Regulation that cripples industry is not the same as regulation that cripples predators.

Listening is not a weakness.

Government-funded is not the same as government-run.

Rationing can be, and is, imposed by privately-run health insurance corporations.

Corruption and waste may be implemented by the military.

America is not a particularly free country.

And last, but not least: Obama is not a progressive.

If Obama were a progressive, DADT and DOMA would be dead in the water. Single-payer healthcare would be right in the middle of the table. Indefinite detention without charge would be off of it. Marijuana would be decriminalized. Credit card interest rates would be capped at 13%. We'd have seen those photos. Dick Cheney would be in handcuffs. Gas would cost $4 a gallon. Banks would have been nationalized. Agribusiness would have lost all subsidies.

I would go on, but it hurts too much.

So, ye self-identified 'conservatives'; be grateful. Our current President is the closest thing to a true conservative we've got.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Palin's Pathology

I have never been in the business of making political predictions, but here goes: Sarah Palin will run for President. I don't think she'll get very far, but I'm sure that this is her fixed intention.

I'm certain of this because I'm equally certain that Palin is a clinical narcissist. I've known a few, up close and personally, and once you've had your dearest dreams and your greatest projects trampled to smithereens by one of them, you start to pick up on the Red Flags. was easy to learn that there has always been a counter-narrative about Palin, and indeed it has become the dominant one. It is the story of a political novice with an intuitive feel for the temper of her times, a woman who saw her opportunities and coolly seized them. In every job, she surrounded herself with an insular coterie of trusted friends, took disagreements personally, discarded people who were no longer useful, and swiftly dealt vengeance on enemies, real or perceived.
The most important thing to understand about narcissists, beyond the fact that they literally Destroy Everything, is that they are perfectly capable of making monumentally stupid decisions--decisions that a retarded, violent sixteen-year-old boy in a state of hormonal overdrive would reconsider--despite their exceptionally high IQs. That is because their priorities are ordered so as to grab for the maximum ego gratification in every moment, regardless of the long- or even short-term consequences. Thus:
By all accounts, Palin was either unwilling, or simply unable, to prepare. In the run-up to the Couric interview, Palin had become preoccupied with a far more parochial concern: answering a humdrum written questionnaire from her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman. McCain aides saw it as easy stuff, the usual boilerplate, the work of 20 minutes or so, but Palin worried intently.
Can you actually imagine this? Imagine that you are about to be interviewed on national TV while running for Vice President of the United States, that you know next to nothing about the issues you are likely to be asked about, and instead of studying your a** off, so as not to humiliate yourself, you obsess about a tiny project that one of your aides could easily do FOR you?

But anyone who has ever tried to complete a major project on a deadline with a narcissistic colleague will recognize this scenario. The more urgently you have to focus, prioritize and work as a team, the more the narcissist creates dramas out of trivialities. It reaches the point where more than half of the group's energy is deflected into placating the narcissist's fears, obsessions and demands, when all of that energy is required to get the job done.

If you manage to successfully navigate the crisis, moreover, the narcissist will be sure to take the credit for it; if catastrophe results, they will loudly blame everyone but themselves. It doesn't really matter to them either way, because their primary objective--sucking all the focus onto themselves--has been met.

Narcissists do not care about Facts; they care about getting what they want, Right Now. Ergo the Odd Lies:
I should reiterate that Palin's lies are not the usual political ones. They are stark assertions of fact that are demonstrably and provably untrue...The point is not that this is a grave sin. It isn't. Most of her lies aren't (with a few exceptions). They are just a function of someone who makes stories up all the time, who says things that may momentarily impress but that are inconsistent with past statements and with, you know, reality.
I am a gullible person. It simply doesn't occur to me that people would lie to me. I take most statements utterly at face value, even when they are at flagrant odds with what I know to be true. I will stand there and wonder, "huh. I wonder why she would say that? Maybe I'd better reconsider my entire world view," before it will dawn on me that maybe she just MADE IT UP.

So when it finally sinks in that yes, your business partner DID just tell a blatant lie about you, in front of you, to a person who has the power to make or break your career, you tend to remember the moment. You tend to spend a lot of time analyzing the events that led up to that moment, and the motives of everyone involved. You do so because if it ever happens again, you will have to kill yourself.

And when you finally conclude that your partner's motives were nothing more than to 'momentarily impress,' you are impressed, all right. political principle or personal relationship is more sacred than her own ambition. To be sure, Palin is “conservative,” whatever that means, but she can be all over the lot in the articulation of her platform.
Most narcissists are incapable of listening, in any but the most superficial way. Other people's concerns don't really exist for them, except as possible levers with which to manipulate. They will appear to listen; they will earnestly tell you what you want to hear, then do exactly what they please, over and over and over again. And they will be genuinely surprised and betrayed when you get upset about it.

I read a lot of punditry by gullible people like myself--people who spend their energy worrying about Palin's political philosophy, her religious beliefs, her positions on abortion, taxes, big government and foreign policy, as though these were the most important things about her. I see people seriously speculating as to why she'd shoot her career in the foot by resigning her governorship if she really intends to run for President; I see them making prescriptions of what she ought to be doing and learning to prepare herself for the job. And I think these people are grossly overthinking it.

Because the answer is staring them in the face. Just being the Governor of Alaska is tedious and boring when, in your fantasy, you see yourself being addressed as Madame President, holding court to adoring foreign leaders, and orating in front of cheering crowds. That's it. That's all. That is the sum total of thought or motivation that has gone into Sarah Palin's decisions since she was cynically inflicted on the national scene in a moment of desperation.