Monday, April 16, 2018

fragments of niceness


i spotted this art project in the heart of copenhagen last week. #fragmentsofniceness by artist kit kjølhede. the sun was shining, i'd just come from a good meeting with my favorite colleagues and i was feeling buoyant. the bright colors, the happy snippets of conversation overheard in copenhagen spoke straight to my soul. what an admirable project - with all that's bad and awful (and orange-tinged) in the world these days, this was precisely what i needed. hell, it's what we all need!


this hasn't been an easy time. a not-very-well planned or communicated reorg about six months ago created a period of limbo and inertia. in such a situation, there are always some ambitious types who take advantage of the vacuum and grab more than they should. and in the absence of clear messages, everyone makes up their own stories and runs with them. and it can create a negative, unproductive space. i believe this is compounded by the darkness of the winter months in our northern climes. but things are beginning to be brighter and it's not just welcome rays of actual sunshine, but things really are becoming clearer. maybe we can only appreciate clarity when we have been wandering in fog.


and maybe the best way to break free of the uncertainty and negativity is to focus on the positive. to laugh instead of bristling and feeling angry. to help instead of hinder. to be open instead of closed. to overhear the positive and nice things. to listen instead of refusing to hear. to seek out nice things to say. and even more importantly, to think. to make sure the inner narrative is positive and open. to say yes to life and possibilities and new challenges and to let go of what's not working. 


i'm ordering a set of these postcards from the artist to hang up to remind myself to look and listen for positivity around me. i really do believe that you attract what you are looking for. and i also admit that of late, i've been looking for ghosts and schemes and lies and games being played - and guess what, i've found all of those in great quantity. well, no more. the time for negativity is past. 


this is the season to embrace change. it's boring when everything stays the same. this is the time to seek the most amazing stories and tell them well. this is the time to let go of what's not working. and to let go of things which are working but not moving anywhere in order to move on to newer, more exciting things. hanging on to the past isn't productive or healthy. it's not how we grow and learn and evolve and become better, stronger, more capable versions of ourselves. and while this may all sound dire, it's really not. it feels like stretching long unused muscles after a winter hibernation, feeling them out once again, exposing them to the warming rays of the sun, getting to know them and put them to good use.


of course, not everything needs to change - home, husband, child, cats and garden remain the fertile ground from which to grow, they are most definitely my own very best fragments of niceness. that and my t-rex costume. everyone should have one of those. they cheer you right up.

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amazing 9-year-old slays new yorker cartoon captions.
and for a bit more low brow version, check out these shitty captions for new yorker cartoons.

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if you find yourself rolling your eyes at the crystal-obsessed, this is for you.

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and one more from the new yorker...
molly ringwald is such a good writer.

Friday, April 06, 2018

montage and the edge of madness


oh the joys of middle age. little fragments of memory loss, borne of waning hormones and days filled with too many tasks, emails and the relentless onslaught of news. names elude, words are just out of reach. and it's all terrifying in light of mom's alzheimer's. but, i console myself that it's likely not that, at least not yet. it's the times we live in - it's the relentlessness of being always online and the 24-hour news cycle. something has to fill it all, so like an eisenstein montage, it all keeps flashing before us, inundating our brains, filling them to overflow, impulses, ideas, stories, images, names flitting by, our brains can hardly sort it all. it's no wonder we can't remember things in detail. there's surely an element of wilful forgetting in it. who can take so much? the brain blocks some of it off to keep us safe and away from the edge of madness. and yet, we hang there, swinging out over the precipice, wondering if the pendulum will swing back.

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over-dramatised and badly-acted, but charming nonetheless.
but you gotta like the western girl.

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this thought-provoking piece in the new yorker
where does the mind end and the world begin?
andy clark has some thoughts on that.

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stories can change the world.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

fog


the temperature is rising after days (months?) of unseasonable cold. a fog moved in silently over the landscape, thickening and settling in as i drew nearer to my weekday home. it at once obscured and made the bare, black trees more noticeable, more striking in their height, their branches more numerous and intricate against the greyish white of the fog. a hush settled over the landscape, like it had been swaddled in cotton, dampening all sound, save the odd birdcall, i imagined from the cocoon of my car, similarly grey and nondescript as it sped along the road. i didn't actually hear any birds, but their calls would both carry and be muffled by the fog and i could hear them in my head. fog transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary. your imagination fills in what's hidden. i exclaimed that i found the trees magical; my friend's daughter shivered and said she found them spooky. to her they were somehow alien and foreboding. the fog the same, our stories of it different. there's a life lesson in that somewhere.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

it's mom's birthday


my mom turns 79 today. my sister went to her assisted living yesterday and did a whole shebang. mom's sister was there, there was music, there was cake - it was a celebration. reports suggest that mom enjoyed herself thoroughly, which warms my heart in these times when i wonder what her quality of life is through the fog of her alzheimer's. and i feel very far away. mostly because i am very far away. and i have some ambivalence about that - it can be good and bad, sometimes at the same time.


these photos of mom are from the late 1950s. she was a member of the class of 1957 (of musical fame) and these must have been shortly after her graduation, when she was working at the sioux falls argus leader. her father had been an editor there for 30+ years, so she got a job there as well, even though he died when she was 16. she was a typesetter, but i think in these photos, she was a markets reporter. there must have been several photoshoots, since she's not wearing the same clothes in all the photos, nor is her hair quite the same. i suspect she trimmed it herself. and she never really stopped doing that.


i look at these and i wonder who she was? i'm not sure we ever really know our parents, they are kind of strangers to us. what goes on their heads? what life did they have before we came along? what dreams did she have? what did she like to do? what did she think of her job? did she like it? it seems obvious she laughed at work and enjoyed it, and i'd like to believe it wasn't just for the camera. i think the cameraman was wilmer. i don't remember his last name, but i remember visiting his smoked-filled house frequently as a child. he made the most amazing photographic new year's cards every year. they weren't christmas cards, as i recall him not believing in god, which was pretty out there for someone from sioux falls in the 1970s (probably even more so today). he was a real photographer - i remember his small house in sioux falls - his wife helen's fish pond in a very eclectic back yard and stacks of photos balanced precariously on card tables in the living room. even in my childish memories, he was a real character and probably one of the first intellectuals i was exposed to. in my memory, those new year's cards were a bit surreal and dali-esque. always with a clock on them, to signify time passing. i hope there are some in a box somewhere in the house, i'd like to see them again, to see if they match my memories.


it seems appropriate to stroll through my own memories as hers fade away. i am struck by the sorrow of her becoming even more of a stranger, that who she was and who she is are ever more unreachable by me. in this last photo, i look at her hands and i see my own hands, but otherwise, i don't find myself in her. maybe i see a hint of myself in that collar bone and in the freckles on her arm. but otherwise, she is and will undoubtedly remain, a mystery to me.

happy 79th birthday mom. you are your own, to the very end.

Monday, March 19, 2018

the trolls are out


yikes, there was a post in the nytimes podcast club, asking for what annoys people about podcasts. i said many podcasters' pronunciation of qatar as "cutter" drove me crazy. it created a whole lot of discussion and much more outrage and trollishness that i would ever have imagined. one girl got a little bit unhinged and accused me of being pretentious and pseudo intellectual. um, what? i was just answering the question. the internet is awful.



i hadn't encountered such stridency in the nytimes podcast club before this.  i think it's an interesting example of the times in which we live and the increasing absence of it being ok to disagree. and also, of citing a random internet site as authority. i think i'll ask helen zolzmann of the allusionist what she thinks.

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apropos people who disappoint,
advice on how to find joy.
we could all use that.

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sam sifton (the sublime nytimes cooking writer)
recommended this
i trust his advice.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

reality:check


CPH:dox, the copenhagen documentary film festival, is sending some of their films out to the provinces, and so i had the chance to see two of the films at spinderihallerne in vejle. spinderihallerne is one of the few bright spots in vejle, which otherwise rather thinks more of itself than it actually should. it's an old factory in the center of the city that's been converted to a museum, café, event and coworking space and they've done it very well.

the films i saw were maxim pozdarovkin's our new president, about the fake news about the american election IN russia. you can see a longish trailer for it here. i spent much of the screening with my mouth gaped open in horror. it's easy to understand how the russian trolls spread their insane, conspiratorial stories on our shores. what's less easy to understand is how anyone fell for it. i feel sad about russia today. i spent many years studying russian and russian culture and i think what's happening under putin does a rich and intelligent culture a real disservice.

the other film i saw was called pre-crime - about the algorithms and technology that's "helping" police departments all over the world catch criminals before they even are criminals. if you've seen person of interest, you'll realize that reality and fiction are far closer than we may like. but can you imagine being approached by the police because you landed on a computer-generated list of people who might someday commit a crime? what if you had been hanging out with the wrong crowd, but you weren't doing that anymore, what if you'd gone back to school and gotten your life in order when they came knocking? what would that do to you?

it was a very thought-provoking day, but also quite sobering. it is frightening how we all are voluntarily giving up so much information - through facebook, instagram, location-sharing and yes, even free google-owned platforms like this blog - that's sold on to those who would use it against us. it gave me thoughts of seriously living off-grid. but i think that's become quite difficult. plus, i'm such a device-geek that i would find it very hard. what if i could no longer photograph every cup of coffee or the adventures of my minifigures or share the latest things the cats are doing? but, what if that could be used against me in ways i cannot even imagine.

both films had a talk after them - the first, about fake news in general and the second about the state of surveillance in denmark. neither talk made me feel any better. but it feels really important to have the conversation. i'm glad denmark is still funding such things. this event was free. i used my whole saturday afternoon learning something new and being provoked to think and there was even free popcorn. i don't think it gets much better than that.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

searching for a sense of community


i took a little stroll into the past this morning. the bloggy past. i visited a bunch of old haunts, from char's ramblings to truth cycles to c is for capetown to the emma tree and the eleventh and beyond. all were, in some fashion, more or less dormant. we knew that about char, of course, since she died all too young back in 2011. but what happened to the rest of us? what happened to our community? some of us moved over to facebook and are still friends there. but it's arguably not the same as it was back in the blogging heyday. i used to write daily, sometimes multiple times, but now i'm only here a couple of times a month, when i want to figure out what i think about something. what changed? jobs? kids? did life accelerate somehow? was it the rise of the smart phone (who wants to type a whole blog post on that little keyboard)? or did facebook, instagram and twitter just kill our blogging vibe? but i realized that i miss that old sense of community. that's just not the same on facebook.

there is a kind of community on facebook and i have recently observed the intersection of one part of that community with actual, in-real-life community. watching it from afar has been at turns nauseating and heartwarming. i haven't really known how to feel about it. i've felt like a voyeur, since it was tangential to my own community, so it's felt like an invasion of privacy on my part to read the regular updates. but on the other hand, it was shared publicly, so i wasn't really spying. but it has felt like spying. and not only did i spy, i judged. at times harshly. there was a lot of god stuff and i have a hard time with that. but then, something softened in me. i can see people of all ages, from high school girls to grandparents, pouring out good thoughts of healing and support and honestly, it suddenly melted my heart. people demonstrably caring about other people, what's not to like? there's so much awfulness in the world right now, and i can't believe i almost missed this situation as an antidote to it. when i let myself, i can see that it's a genuine sense of community.

but at the same time, i can't bring myself to participate in it. so i sit across an ocean and voyeuristically read the posts, but don't contribute anything to the conversation. and there are a couple of reasons for that. one is the god thing - i cannot see how you can possibly praise god up and down for his mercy in the girl's recovery and not blame him that she fell ill in the first place - the logic just doesn't add up for me. the other is that i don't really know these people, tho' they are from my hometown, so i would feel like an intruder if i participated in the conversation. i have a classmate who i can see is part of the conversation and she's for all practical purposes, as far away as i am, but she feels she can contribute to the community in a way that i cannot. or will not. because i also admit that it's a choice on my part. she's just making a different choice than i am. and that's ok. it's perhaps a community i'm no longer part of, especially after my father died and with the decline of my mother and seeing how all the friends she had have fallen away as she has deteriorated. it's hard to keep a positive view of the place when it seems like it was all a facade and not real when the going gets tough.

i don't really know where it all leaves me, and i'm not done pondering it or looking for answers as to how to live this life we have landed in. a colleague recommended a russian philosopher that i had strangely not heard of before - p.d. ouspensky. i got his work from 1917 - in search of the miraculous - and i've been reading it today. perhaps it will provide me with a new way of viewing the world, even tho' the world in which he wrote was so far from our technology-flooded world today. but perhaps humans aren't all that different.