Wednesday, January 15, 2020

BIRTHDAYS AND EYE CANDY

When I turned 70, I cried for a year. 

For one thing, I thought I’d be dead by then, but VOILA! I woke up still breathing and big as Dallas, staring out at people and the world. Nothing was transformed from the day or year before except that I was officially “an elder.” 

Magazines and advertisers try to convince us that 70 is the new 60.  WTF! When did 60 get to be so great? At 64, I thought my life was pretty much Cream of Wheat. That’s when I began writing this blog. No, the blog has not magically changed my life. But it has provided me with a great outlet for talking about observations and commenting on the purely laughable state of human beings -- me included..

I stopped crying when I turned 71. I can’t remember why; it was a sudden flash of optimism. Maybe it was acceptance. Whatever it was, now I think deeper thoughts, feel with greater empathy, and form more profound questions. 

Maybe I had a stroke. 

(Nobody told me and I can decide right now whether to believe or not believe whatever I chose. It’s the new rage: it’s called picking facts that I like.)

Today I am 76 and celebrating my birthday in North Carolina. Last night, I read a few blog entries to a group of lovely ladies at The Pines, a very posh elder residency. I picked an entry from 10 years back that begins “I have been obsessing about death and dying lately.” I looked out over these 20 or so bodies and thought “what in hell can I tell this group and how can I make a joke about dying?” But I did…and they laughed. These women are survivors. And I decided, o.k. Game on! 

I like that part about myself. The rest of me could use a good wire brushing and a new paint job.

Elizabeth Strout in her new book “Olive, Again” moves Olive to assisted living. Now Olive is in her mid-80s and she sits down to type her memoirs. After a few minutes, she types “I do not have a clue who I have been.  Truthfully, I do not understand a thing.”  

Isn’t that just the best?




DETAIL -iron gate decorated with found material...the home of a graphic designer and his artist-wife.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

IN DEFENSE OF BANANAS



“With a Historic Splash, David Hockney Becomes the World’s Priciest Living Artist”…$358 million for one painting : 2018

“Leonardo da Vinci Painting Sells for $450 million” (2017)

Two art auction headlines. 
They came and went and nobody batted an eye. 
People assumed that a da Vinci is worth $450 million because after all, he’s dead, and he’s in all the art history books. 
The David Hockney thing raised a few eyebrows because, after all,  he’s still alive.  

Think about those amounts of money. Nearly half a billion dollars — sales to individuals — not museums, not governments. In a world where individuals have billions of dollars to spend on ANY object, is monetary value meaningless?

 “It’s all hokum, sleight of hand, gas and mirrors!” That was Marcel Duchamp (1917) when he entered a urinal as art object at the Society of Independent Artists.  He justified his action with “it is art because I am an artist and I say it is” — the audacity of his “brutal sneer.” 

Almost everybody knows about the urinal but what was Duchamp trying to tell us? I believe it is that art is everything no matter what title you give it — painting, sculpture, egg turner, shovel. If we are to live our lives to the fullest, then we must look at everything we see and touch as “art.”

Well! That gets to be pretty exhausting, don’t you think? Much easier to establish categories. So shovels go into “house goods”. Buy those at the hardware store. Art belongs in museums…or in hands of very wealthy people. And that, dear readers, is totally against Duchamp’s lesson. 

Artists regularly remind us of Duchamp’s philosophy because we can’t seem to get it:  art permeates everything and belongs to everyone. Enter the banana taped to a wall (2019). Title: The Comedian. Artist: Maurizio Cattelan, the same conceptual artist who created the 18 carat gold toilet (Title: America). Mr. Cattelan is not very subtle in his “brutal sneers.”  

For a few minutes last week, everybody was talking about the $120,000 banana. Question: who is the comedian of the title? the artist? the art bureaucracy that willingly exhibited the piece in a major international show? the buyer? Or billionaires (and by extension, all of us) chasing validation and prestige through accumulation of things? 

Art isn’t alone in this skewed value system. In what universe is a baseball player’s employment worth $324 million (9 year contract?) How can anybody even talk about a $24,000 hair cut? Or a $300 million car collection?  How about a 27 story apartment for $1 billion (a part time residence)?  Or a $1.5 Million i phone? (Each of these is actual fact verified by a ten second Google search.)

We are immune to such outrageous extravagance. But tape a banana to a wall, and it’s a new kind of crazy. 

Or it's really, really funny.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

CONFESSIONS OF A HOLIDAY SHOPPER

My "Holiday Blouse"
I just ordered this expensive blouse from an English catalog. It’s being delivered in 12 hours.  That’s the power of internet shopping. I can’t drive from my house to the nearest shopping mall, park, walk inside, find something, purchase, bring home, try on, reverse all…in less than double the time.  Shipping from England: $15 — a bargain.

Not to say this blouse has staying power. Already I'm thinking “big flowers?” I’m old — and “chubby” — and 5’2”(down from 5'3). Then there’s the issue of European sizing. I either ordered a size big enough to serve as Tyvek on the garage or one that will fit my terrier, Lucy. I filled out the “size chart” questionnaire: Height: 5’6,” Weight: 122 lbs., Age: 43. Then I sized up a notch and figured “close enough.”

Now I’m on the hunt for velvet pants. In my dream, I will be transformed into the twin of this model — not outrageously glamorous, not movie star beautiful. This lady looks more like a nurse practitioner or maybe a cellist. I want to be her.

My friend asked me “why velvet pants?” I said “for holiday parties.” “Exactly how many holiday parties are you going to?” That’s when I confronted the awful truth: I’m not going to any holiday parties. 

What am I thinking? I just went through a cleanse. I just wrote about the weight of too much — and I believe every word! But I suffer from the curse of being a middle class American woman, brain washed into thinking I can be younger, prettier, thinner, smarter if I only have the right outfit. Like that song about Laredo: “if you have an outfit you can be a cowboy too.” With the right velvet pants, maybe I can play the cello…or dance a wicked tango…or understand Italian…

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````
Political Conservatives are on the march again: the multi-trillion dollar federal deficit needs trimming, so by all means, cut the few pennies thrown at the National Endowment for the Arts. Easy target! Read Eve L. Ewing, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, writing for the New York Times. She builds a persuasive case:  Art becomes a political target because it creates pathways to subversion, and incites political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders.  If that’s not enough reason to “throw those artists and performers and writers in the klink,” this one is: ART TEACHES THAT ALL LIVES HAVE VALUE. 

Happy December, everybody.  





Wednesday, November 27, 2019

CARRIED AWAY BY OWLS


Thanksgiving is 48 hours away. Already I’m feeling weighed down -- drowning in too much! I don’t want all that food on Thursday. I don’t want to watch a Christmas Parade, the official opening of the  troughs of commerce. Somebody will bring out a cheese tray and shrimp as the last mega-balloon wafts down 5th Avenue. Really? Didn’t we just finish coffee and Rice Krispies a few minutes ago?

Several women will perform the THANKSGIVING MINUET in the kitchen — a ballet of opening and closing refrigerator, ovens, and cabinets with dogs underfoot and the menfolk waiting for the pre-football announcers. Dinner is timed to arrive at the table between televised events.  

Why are we doing this anyway? I get all that ritual, shared ceremony, national day of thanks — all good. But what about the flip side? If I am to be totally honest, I’m not so thankful for that immigration/genocide event. What about our indigenous friends? Anybody else wonder how the Cherokee or Senecas “celebrate” Thanksgiving? I just saw that it’s a “Day of Mourning” for native Americans. Rightfully so.

Radio talk shows this pre-Thanksgiving week aired conversations about avoiding unpleasant topics at the dinner table. On one show, everybody piled on “Uncle Joe”, the typical family blowhard, the obnoxious political outlier. 

Have you ever wondered if you are the “Uncle Joe?” Or the “Aunt Jean?” I confess: it might be me! I’m sick of “everybody does it” and “how do you know your facts are right?” and “yeah, if the world is heating up, how come it’s so damned cold in here?” I rise to the bait when somebody says “$15 an hour? You might as well shut down all small business.” And “women shouldn’t be paid as much as men —they aren’t the bread winners.”  I want to scream “Shut up! Eat you tenth helping of mashed potatoes! White men can’t jump!”

But I won’t. 

We’ve been watching “The Crown” at our house. It’s a quiet series — no wartime heroics, no alarm bell scandals in England during the period (mid 1960s - early 1970). But if you watch and listen, some soul stabbing ideas are buried in those dialogues. An elderly Princess Ann (Phillip’s mother) says “I realized at age 70 that I was no longer a participant. Now I am an observer.”  My 80-something year old friend MaryAnn wrote “She was right. My neighbors never ask me anything about my life — what I did, where I came from and how I got to this place. Our conversations are always about them. But I remember being in my 40s and I never really knew the retired couple who lived next door. I just never bothered.”

Where to go with all this? I am weighed down with memories, with regrets, with longing for those dear ones no longer here. Is “too much" a blessing or a curse?  

Maybe Thanksgiving is less about giving thanks and more about atonement.
THANK YOU, DANIEL L.




Sunday, November 17, 2019

A WEEK END IN THE COUNTRY

THE RESIDENT FOX


Abbey and Lucy, the two West Highland terriers that rule our house, went into full-blown, bat-shit-crazy barking at the window yesterday.  A fox went slinking past outside. He didn’t stop to acknowledge the two domestic cousins totally flipping out on the opposite side of the glass. Instead, he circled the yard, and examined the brush pile and the heavily treed back berm. I last saw him disappearing over the edge of the ravine.

Was he scouting for a suitable den — a place to move his bride? Raise the kits? Or only prowling for food? We have a New York City population of chipmunks holed up around us. The neighborhood cat took the summer off. Chipmunks moved here from all parts of the globe. I don’t really mind but Abbey and Lucy, the Resident Canine Green Berets, saw them as Nazi invasive forces. I assume that foxes eat chipmunks and there you have it — the balance of nature in spite of humans and domesticated pets.
ABBEY AND LUCY
````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````
Our bird feeders are back in action. Chip takes them down in May, as soon as we begin seeing bugs and seed heads in the naturalized “meadow,” aka, backyard. Feeders go back into place with the first snowfall — usually the beginning of November. 

I enjoy watching bird politics. Clearly, the red headed woodpecker rules. He eats first — alone — like royalty. Nobody challenges that right. Once in awhile a blue jay lands but decides not to pull a coup and flies away. The smalls — chickadees, finches — swarm the feeders and are pretty democratic. They easily make room for incoming nuthatches, titmouse, redpols. No big deal — one takes a break and waits in the bar next door for a seat at the table. 

Doves are ground feeders  — the cat fish of the avian set. They eat the dregs, the leftovers that fall to the ground. Doves make me sad. They seem so …gray! No sparkle, no grace, no warble. They remind me of homeless people — ever present in spite of liberal intentions. 

I count cardinals among the exotics even though I see them in the spruce trees year round. That flash of red — impossible to miss against dark green and the first white of winter. They come to the feeders as a pair — male and female — when no-one else is around. 
Dr. Zhivago and Lara, Heathcliff and Cathrine. So beautiful.

We don’t feed sparrows. And we don’t feed squirrels. The feeders are outfitted with anti-invasive devices. One must have limits. 

(Uh-oh. The blue jay just dived in and took position at the very top of the feeding stand. The challenge is on. He looks around with determination this time. All other birds have retreated into the brush. I wonder if I should shoo him away? Just as I am about to rise to the task, I see that he’d flown up to the nearest tree branch. Is this a tactical move? Is he plotting wood pecker assassination?

Oh no! There’s a second Jay! Now what? I can’t handle the stress. This is beginning to seem like a Quentin Tarantino movie. I need a cookie to settle my nerves. I’ll write about art next time.) 

````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

Monday, November 4, 2019

THREE CHEERS FOR JJ KAPLAN!

THE GOLD NET PROJECT
We can’t all be Jeremy John Kaplan, can we?  JJ is a middle aged man who grew up in New York City doing the usual things that people do growing up…nothing startling. He didn’t develop an app and make a million dollars —he wasn’t a medical phenom — he didn’t write a best seller when he was in high school — he didn’t speak to the United Nations about inequality (or anything else!)

No, JJ is just a typical guy — school, home, shoot a few hoops on the neighborhood playground, grow up to be ….an artist?

Kaplan is that but his “art” falls into a groove hard to describe. He practices tactical urbanism; it’s a combination of performance and civic responsibility. 

Urban playgrounds nearly all have basketball hoops and nine times out of ten, the net is gone or partly gone or hanging by three threads. So Kaplan began his very own “Gold Net Project.” He dresses all in white, a uniform that looks like a cross between the IceCream Man and your average house painter. He drags his ladder to the spot and attaches a new GOLD basketball net. There’s no significance to the color except maybe to instantly identify the ones he’s replaced. There are 291 gold nets at 112 courts so far. (And he’s repainted lines on two but that’s a little out of his purview.)

Kaplan pays for the whole project by making and selling photographs, prints, drawings — all related somehow to basketball courts and nets. He’s been run off a few times by city officials but mostly, people leave him alone. 

Do new basketball nets change lives? Hard to say but for people playing basketball on those courts, nets are a symbol, a spotlight on a very small piece of life that says someone is paying attention to them, their needs, the quality of their environment… like picking up trash…planting flowers…any effort that adds solace and comfort to the shared public space.  Even better, those nets add quality and aesthetic improvement to shared space. What better art form is there than that?

In this world that we share, are we all required to be a tactical urbanist? Or is this just a newly invented term to describe what our parents taught us as kids, a part of the Girl and Boy Scout mottos, The Golden Rule? Whatever it is, I’m grateful to hear stories about the JJ Kaplans out there. Nice goin’. 

  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

THE DIVINE MS. MONK

MEREDITH MONK
Who dips into heavy culture on Monday night? That’s supposed to be “recovery night,” the time to put on the heavy socks, p.j.’s and veg out in front of television. 

But this Monday night was different. Meredith Monk was performing on the University of Rochester campus. It was the rare opportunity to see a legend in action, a woman who has been awarded nearly every accolade possible in the sphere of arts and culture. President Barack Obama presented her with the 2015 National Medal of Arts. 

It’s hard to describe Meredith Monk, even more difficult to describe what she does. First, the physical facts. The woman is 77 years old! She probably isn’t much more than 5 ft. tall and maybe she weighs a bit more than 100 pounds. For last night’s performance, her long brown hair was parted in the middle and plaited into two long braids that hung over her chest nearly to her waist. She looks like a young girl from the cast of some midwestern movie, one filmed in black and white and set in the hard-knock, no-nonsense days of “Little House on the Prairie.” 

She and her stage sisters were dressed totally in white, the kind of clothes with asymmetrical hemlines, off kilter buttons and wide legged trousers, the kind of clothes that looks vaguely homemade but you know comes from small expensive boutiques selling “pieces” with designer labels. And they wore black boots. 

Ms. Monk is a pioneer in what is now labeled “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance.” She and the ensemble “sing” — no words but a series of tics and what sounds a little like vocal exercises. (In one piece, they vocalize kitten meowing sounds.) The singers often harmonize; clearly each one is musically talented. A piano is on stage and one of the ensemble goes to the bench and tinkles ethereal fingerings once or twice but mostly the singing is a cappella.  (The hour long piece they performed is titled “Cellular Songs.”)

As they sing, the company of women move around the stage in a minuet, weaving in and and away from one another, sometimes stamping the floor with booted feet to mark a tempo. One member does a stunning dance solo, lying balanced across a stool.

As we left the theater, I was asked “Well? Did you like it?”
It was a question I could not answer. I don’t think “like” has much to do with great art.

In that auditorium, for an hour, nobody breathed. There were no sounds from the audience — no rustling, crackling candy wrappers, scrapping seats, coughing. All eyes were on that stage. Those women held the attention of that audience as completely as if they were conjurers and had cast spells on every observer. We didn’t know what we were hearing or seeing but we knew it was extraordinary and we were grateful to be among the lucky observers.