Saturday
Jun032017

My new response to people who vent at me about Trump

God's Angry Man, tv evangelist Gene Scott in 1980 -- the model for today's angry tv Democrats?

OK, upfront, I didn't vote for Trump, not a fan, but could the Democrats I'm friends with just get over their well-earned defeat? Am I the only person who gets vented at? I feel sometimes like I'm in the presence of Jesus Freaks who are assailing me with news about the coming Apocalypse. Oh right, these Democrats I know can't stand the fundamentalist Christians, even though they sound more and more like media evangelists of yesterday. Like Gene Scott (for those who don't remember him here's the Wikipedia link). Is there any difference between his rantings and NPR, the NYT and the New Yorker? Nah, except they've become more more rabidly irrational and browbeating than Gene ever was and a lot less entertaining. I was glued to cable tv during Gene's days but when my Democrat friends start venting at me I just glaze over with stupified boredom. However, I've come up with a new response when my Democrat friends say things like "I don't want Trump impeached, I just want the whole election voided because of interference by Russia during the election." My response: "OK, Darlin', your order is coming up right away -- and would you like a side of ham with that? I guess not, probably more like quinoa. The democratic process be damned, you should have what you want!"

Friday
Jun022017

Why Do Artists Love Talking Political Bullshit?

Am I the only person who's recently gotten flyers for art shows and music festivals that reek of bad political thinking? I've always loved going to the Ojai Music Festival, held every June in the beautiful small California town of Ojai. A lot of it is outdoors in a park, it's a mix of avant-garde and long dead classical composers. I can't think of another festival that featured so many cutting edge artists, not just in music, but in the other arts.

In my twenties I was friends with one of the key early formers of the festival in the 1940s, Lawrence Morton. Lawrence had a great ear, a wry sense of humor and a love of many different kinds of music. He championed composers like Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Luciano Berio and Olivier Messaien and was friends with composers like Igor Stravinsky. I once asked Lawrence how he would respond to people who complained that avant-garde music is "cold." He laughed and said, "I ask them if they don't like some things cold. I say 'Don't you like a cold salad?' So why not enjoy cold music?"

Lawrence embodied the wit and egalitarianism of the Ojai Festival. I've been going to the festival whenever I was in California since I was a teen. One thing always remained constant. That was the egalitarianism. You could walk up to Pierre Boulez, who was easily accessible, or Peter Sellars, who was the director last year. I did walk up to Boulez decades ago at the Ojai Festival and had a lovely conversation with him. I walked up to Peter Sellars last year and he couldn't have been more friendly and casual.

This year, however, I'm passing on going to the festival even though I now live nearby in Santa Barbara. When I got the email from the Ojai Festival with the message from this year's director, Vijay Iyer, I was amazed at how full of current-day political and identity theory bullshit he is. It was all cut-and-paste nonsense from academic identity theorist Judith Butler, who I personally hold responsible for the idiotic liberal arts educations that millenials are getting.

Here's a sample of what Iyer says in his message:

By now you’ve probably heard or read my suggestion that we should replace the word “genre” with “community”—a very different word, concerned not with styles, but with people. I realize that the latter has become a no-less-hackneyed term, wishful and forced, invoked too often. With this distinction I only meant to point out a simple truth about music: In listening to each other, we become connected. When done with patience and compassion, listening can elicit recognition of the other as a version of one’s own self. This kind of empathic listening shakes us out of our habitual role as musical “consumers,” by reminding us that music is the sound of human action, and not a disembodied substance. It de-centers “the composer” as the primary actor in music, and reorients us instead towards the shared present: being together in time. Empathic listening begins to bring all of us in, music makers and observers alike, towards a shared purpose.

But what if I like genres? What if I like being a musical consumer? What if I just want to have a drink at the festival and listen to some awesome Edgar Varese or some weird composer I've never heard of before? What's so wrong about that?

Besides, despite Iyer saying that he wants to "de-center 'the composer' as the primary actor in music" -- I personally have no trouble with composers being at the center of their compositions. If you've gone to all the trouble to make something, take your bow. Fine by me. And when Iyer talks about his desire to get rid of the art-ego, I can't help but think, admittedly without ever having met him, that the dude probably has a pretty damn good opinion of himself.

Finally, he wraps it up with this:

Here we find common cause with Judith Butler’s Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, her recent far-reaching meditations on the politics inherent in the act of gathering. When we, as assembled bodies, are able to theorize a common purpose—to reflect upon ourselves, or to dream together, if you prefer—that is the moment that we become political; that is when we are able to unite around something larger than the self, deeper than aesthetic enjoyment, more urgent than mere curiosity. In this sense, I would add, the moment we commit to empathetic listening, to hearing one another as fellow human beings, we immediately have the potential for not just community, but equality and justice, through direct action and collective transformation. And I am certain that such moments, such purposeful shared presence—a power stronger than itself—will emerge, here, this weekend, with and among each other.

Now that just made me feel droopy as hell. I don't want to sit in the audience with a lot of "assembled bodies who theorize a common purpose and become political" and create "not just community, but equality and justice through direct action and collective transformation." Call me superficial, but after hearing music at the Ojai Festival I don't want to fight for equality and justice, I just want to go around the corner to the Ojai restaurant Azu and have one of their Falafel Chile Rellenos.

Also, it sounds a little cultist, doesn't it? Whenever somebody talks about "collective transformation" I can't help but think they really want to engage in mass brainwashing. I don't find that Iyer's message embodies the egalitarian spirit of the festival. I think it's elitism-that-knows-what's-good-for-the-audience masquerading as egalitarianism.

My head hurt after I read his message. I didn't feel slapped with Zen paradoxes the way I have when I've read John Cage's thoughts on music, which always make me feel dizzy and buzzed. I just felt like my head was full of a lot of meaningless verbiage.

Perhaps I don't truly understand the signifiance of what he's saying. Reading his message reminded me of something my mother told me when I was a child. She'd gone to a lecture by a follower and expert on the philosophy of the zany Russian mystic George Gurdjieff. Apparently the lecturer talked on and on about Gurdjieff's theories of the cosmos. At the end of it, he asked if the audience had anything they wanted to say. A man stood up and said, "I've been sitting here for close to two hours and I haven't understood a single word you've said."

Does Iyer talk this way because it's what you have to in order to get ahead in today's art world? Or does he really mean it because he's been brainwashed by Judith Butler? Either way he should stick to composing and conducting which he's much better at.

Saturday
Apr152017

Me and sneaky the squirrel

 Sneaky the Squirrel challenges me to make him stop eating

Somehow I don't think I'm alone in my relationship with squirrels who want me to feed them. I love to feed the wild birds where we live in Santa Barbara. And I would love feeding our resident tree squirrel, who I call Sneaky, except that he's a two-fisted eater who shovels the bird feed into his mouth. It's not just that I don't want to spend our wild animal feed making Sneaky happy, it's that I worry for his gut. Btw, I say "he" because I'm convinced Sneaky is a he. I'm sorry if squirrel-gender-advocates are offended by my binary assignation of sex to Sneaky, but Sneaky seems fine with it. Sneaky has never taken a gender studies class.

Sneaky the Squirrel and Edgar our resident Raven square off over cheese and crackers

Sneaky depends on jumping from tree branch to tree branch, but lately I see him having a bit more trouble air-lifting his heft. So, okay, I use a Super Soaker to chase Sneaky away. It's only filled with water so please don't sic PETA on me. Besides, I'm doing Sneaky a favor by giving him some exercise. And Sneaky gets me exercising. I have a tendency to just sit while writing and drawing and creatively scheming and at least Sneaky gets me up and down as I chase him away. I do more squats getting up and down from the couch to chase him away than I do in my haha-three-times-a-week exercise routine. He gets to run around the yard and work off the calories before coming back to do more two-fisted bird seed hoovering. Seems like a relationship that could last.

Sneaky in the tree with Betty Davis rodent eyes

 

Wednesday
Mar222017

Buddhist meditation and political thinking right now

I recently read Mark Epstein's "Thoughts Without a Thinker," a book about the importance of combining psychoanalytic therapy with Buddhist meditation. It was a controversial book when it was first published in 1995 because Epstein argues that Western therapy can only take patients so far since it isn't grounded in a spiritual perspective (even though Epstein shows how Freud himself saw the virtue in Eastern meditation). Epstein was observing and experiencing the limitations of traditional talk therapy at that time.

I bought the book because I started practicing Buddhist mindfulness meditation a year ago. I regularly do fifteen minutes a day, and though I struggle with the notorious meditation "monkey brain" where my thoughts often fly off in a million directions, I've felt the change from the practice in how I relate to my own perceptions of the world and to my own beliefs about myself. I see how my emotions are not reality. My emotions may guide me to reality, but they aren't in and of themselves reality. They're simply emotions.

I've gone through numerous guided meditations on YouTube, Jack Kornfield being one of the mindfulness practitioners I've found really helped. And Mark Epstein's book also helped me, because it laid out for me all the ways in which I'd often relied on Western therapy to "cure me."

Over the years I've gone to various therapists, from Freudian based ones to Jungian. They all had something to offer, but it wasn't until I went to a Gestalt therapist that I really felt I was doing therapy in the present tense, in the now so to speak, rather than dredging endlessly over past situations.

But while Gestalt helped me, what I've really found most helpful is therapy that combines meditation with traditional Western style talk therapy. That's what Mark Epstein lays out in "Thoughts Without a Thinker." I recommend the book to anyone who's going through therapy, or considering going into therapy.

Were anyone taking my advice, I really recommend "Thoughts Without a Thinker" to any of the liberals who are distraught right now about the current political situation. There is little objective thinking going on among a number of the Lib Left people I know. I find way too much attachment among Liberals to their emotions, as though their anxieties and depression over Trump constitute anything but bad feelings. I think this is why Liberals are engaging in so much projection right now. If you believe your emotions are reality, and you can't detach yourself from them, then you're caught in a hall of mirrors in which you see anyone who disagrees with you, or even questions anything you say, as being a traitor to the Liberal morally superior way.

I'd go further -- I'd say this is why too many liberals are going to spend the next few years massaging their distress about Trump rather than address the changes that need to be made in the Democratic Party (how about tossing it onto the fire and starting anew?).

It's very strange for me to be among lib friends right now. They'll spout about how upset they are with Trump in the White House and they tell me they attend all sorts of support groups on it where they weep and cry and wail about not knowing what they can do.

I've never experienced anything like this before. I don't know why liberals assume that I automatically agree with their ranting, or why they wouldn't stop for a moment and look at me (they never look at me in the eye while they're ranting, they just seem off in their own world) and actually ask me what think. How do they know I agree with them without asking my opinion? Mostly I try to change the subject because while I'm not a fan of Trump on some issues, I don't subscribe to the apocalyptic hysteria these people are spouting. I've found it's impossible to reason with crazy people, even if it's just temporary insanity induced by liberals reading only the NYT, the New Yorker or listening to too much NPR.

They seem to be seeking spiritual solice from politics and political leaders. I don't think that's a healthy relationship to have with government, which should, IMHO, divorced from religious fervor and should be regarded in an entirely pragmatic way.

Liberals will laugh at the Religious Right for their "kooky" beliefs, but I don't see any difference between the way Liberals see the impending doom from the Trump administration and the way in which Right Wing religious fanatics see God smiting all of us for allowing abortion. Because there's a complete lack of objective questioning or distance from their emotions in both these liberals and Right Wing Christians. They're both in full-on apocalyptic mode.

I've decided to stop talking politics with liberal friends who are that emotional. My current tactic for dealing with their ranting is simply to say "I think you need to start practicing Buddhist meditation. Just fifteen minutes a day for six months. Then come back to me and tell me what you think about the current political situation. Because then we'll actually be able to have a conversation." And I guide them to Mark Epstein's "Thoughts Without a Thinker."

Tuesday
Mar212017

potluck and the end of hospitality

Every time my husband Ray and I give one of our monthly lunch parties some guest will ask if I wouldn't rather hold a potluck party so I don't have to cook for the 30 to 40 people who show up. It's a sweetly intended suggestion, but my answer is always a firm "Absolutely not -- I consider potluck to be a major sign of the decline of hospitality."

People will respond with "But I like potluck." To which I always say, "Then you should hold one. And I won't come to it. But if you're invited to our place you don't have to bring anything but yourself."

You know what I mean by potluck I'm sure but if not: it's one of those parties where every guest brings a dish. And that's what I'm denouncing in this blog post.

Is my generation the first to take potluck -- something you were stuck with at church and school socials -- and elevate it to the status of home entertaining? I fear that's the case, but I never went along with my generation's trend. I always hated and dreaded potluck meals. It meant that everyone brought some gluey or overly starchy or gloppy dish or worse -- fluorescent-colored jello weirdness -- that they only made for potlucks and you knew they never actually ate themselves.

Yes, everyone has some memory of that neighbor woman Esther who brought the best brownies in the world to the church potluck. But aside from Esther, who ever brought something to a potluck you ate without worrying about the digestive consequences? Fortunately, early on in the history of potluck, most people learned not to bring potato salad or their own lethal canned green beans. But really, how good have you ever felt tummy-wise after a potluck dinner?

I saw the Decline of Hospitality beginning with parties where I was invited and then instructed to BYOB. Maybe I was born a food snob but even then I thought it was declasse to ask someone to bring their own booze to a party. I even thought it was declasse to ask people to bring their own drugs. Well, yeah, I wanted somebody else to pay the big bucks for the cocaine. But I thought that BYOB showed a lack of hospitality even when the party took place only in a hot tub.

BYOB was hospitality-wrecking enough, but after that I started getting invitations to potluck dinners. "You're invited to our place for a party! Bring something to nibble!" That really galled me at the time, but I chalked it up to my boho friends not having any money or sometimes even a decent kitchen where they lived. It usually meant that there were five of the exact same macaroni salads, and six of the same tofu mash that the local health food store carried, and twenty boxes of crackers and cookies because of course we were all going to get stoned and have serious carb munchies. And the real stars of the potluck were the people who brought the weed, of course. (Or any other assortment of drugs.)

I have some nostalgia for the rap fests that ensued at these parties. But I have no nostalgia for the egregious potluck food and even then I worried that it signalled the end of hospitality. My parents' and grandparents' generations gave real parties. None of this BYOB shit or "bring something for us all to nibble." No, they were very proud of the food they served at their parties, so proud that they would immortalize their dishes in Junior League and Art Docent cookbooks.

Potluck be damned, I say. However, potluck has continued and I won't say it's flourished because that's giving it too much respect. But it has definitely grown expotentially. And really, there's no excuse for some of the people who throw potluck dinner parties. I know people who live in lavish places with gorgeous kitchens who will invite people over for "potluck!" In other words, they're saying "I'd like to be fed by a bunch of friends because it's my personal chef's night off -- so please bring entrees and appetizers, desserts and booze." And these people don't mean some cheapo dish you might pick up at the supermarket. No, they expect you to go at the very least to Whole Foods and spend $50 on the food and also pick up some super bottles of wine.

OK. When we invite you to lunch at our place I make it clear that I don't want you bringing any of the meal. I'm touched and pleased when people bring wine, candies, jams and candies and pastries as presents. But they'd be just as welcome in our place if they only brought themselves. I believe that when you enter our place you're our guest and it's our pleasurable duty to make you feel well fed -- it's not your duty to make us feel well fed.

And if I go to your place? I don't care if all you have is a bottle of Chuck and a bowl of edamame, but it means something to me that you invited me into your home and you want to feed me. Yes, maybe I'll be starving when I leave your place and need to stop off at a steak house, but I'll feel the love of your hospitality. And that's something we should all feel when we're invited to a party.