Friday, February 27, 2009

Drinking the Kool-Aid

OK, I promised some visuals, and here they are: photos from the Obama quilt show, “President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts,” in Silver Spring, MD, at the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Art Center through March 5, 2009.

The quilt show was inspiring for all the sophisticated quilting techniques: We saw fused, pieced, multi-media, and painted quilts. Some quilts looked like pointillist paintings and others like photographs, and still others like graffiti drawings. I loved the quilt entitled “What Dogs Dream of,” which featured a (rescue) greyhound dreaming of being Sasha and Malia’s White House pooch (awwwwwww). The greyhound’s dream was embroidered in a style reminiscent of vintage tea towels. There was also a vivid pieced quilt that was an American flag, but one that incorporating exuberant Hawaiian elements for the stars and stripes. I was impressed by some of the portrait quilts that were painted by artists in a photo-realist style and then machine quilted, which gave the portrait an almost 3-D effect.

I was awestruck by the outpouring of creativity and beauty that the Obama presidency has inspired. (Honestly, I don’t remember our last president inspiring art works of beauty and hope. Wonder why…) One of my friends responded that she just didn’t get the Obamamania… and wasn’t drinking the Kool Aid. I pressed her on this and she explained that the expectations placed on Obama are just unreal. He’s a mere mortal and can’t fix everything. And when people figure this out, they are going to be mighty disillusioned.

A recent Chris Hedges post on fame and celebrity (!_i_wanna_live_forever:_how_narcissism_conquered_reality/) on Alternet pointed out the dangers of our obsession with celebrities, and he included Obamamania as another form of celebrity worship. Worshipping at the altar of a celebrity is a passive activity, and worshippers are trying to fill a void within. It’s an abdication of personal responsibility and it’s a dead end. And in politics, it’s a dangerous dead end. Hedge’s concerns are valid and they are the same concerns that my friend was trying to articulate at the quilt show.

The heart of the problem: what is our duty as individuals to pull ourselves out of this mess? What can we do?

Another post on Alternet (Andrew Lam, “We Need Obama to Help Heal the American Soul,” points out the importance of Obama’s value as a symbol in getting the nation back on track after decades of rampant mindless consumerism, environmental pillaging, and nearly six years of an unjustifiable war. That our collective spirit, as much as our broken economy, needs healing, and an inspiring and charismatic leader like Obama may be exactly what we as a nation need right now. (The body won’t mend, after all, unless the spirit is healed.)

Synthesis of the two viewpoints: Yes, celebrity charisma is dangerous, but if Obama inspires hope in us and we respond by acting on that hope—getting involved in our community, volunteering at our children’s schools, creating a work of art with recycled materials, rethinking our values and priorities, adopting a rescue animal, bicycling to work, planting a victory garden—our collective reawakening will be more valuable than any piece of stimulus legislation that Obama can sign. But the responsibility is on each of us to act and make changes. Obama can’t do it all for us—we have to do it for ourselves.

So yeah, I’m drinking the Kool-aid. I’ll take another glass, please. It’s the only beverage in town.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Naked light fixtures

I just had a funny/traumatic experience in my kitchen last night.

It's a long story: the lightbulbs in my kitchen overhead light burned out on Friday. A friend from grad school was over on Saturday because we were going to see a matinee of the Reader and we had some time before the movie, so I made him get up on a ladder and change the bulbs. Well. we were yakking (my bad), no doubt about the limitations of depicting the Holocaust in film or criticizing the rationale of recent Supreme Court decisions (yes, we really do talk about stuff like that) and he got distracted and didn't screw the light fixture cover back on properly.

So, just after I finished cooking dinner last night and was moving away from the stove to get something from the cupboard above the sink, the glass light fixture cover came crashing to the floor.

Luckily neither I nor my kitty Tati was standing under it--and I would have been if I were still cooking--because one of us would have been badly hurt or even killed if it had been a direct hit. That thing was really heavy. I am still shaking. I finished sweeping up the glass but vacuuming up the dust took some time. It shattered into a million little pieces, and of course, Tati wanted to investigate, so I had to keep shooing her out of the kitchen.

Normally I would get up on a ladder, no problem, but I broke my leg (a really long story) last year and I am still nervous about getting up on ladders. Ugh. Need to get over that.

With the naked light fixture the kitchen now officially looks Depression era (the house was built in the 1942) but not in a good way. Quilting projects with repro 1930s feedsacks--cute. Naked lightbulbs--depressing in a Walker Evans kind of way. I feel as if I should be packing the pick-up and heading to California to pick grapes with the Joad family.

On that note I will post some appropriate music for the drive. Covers of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" from, of course, YouTube.

(Be sure to check out the first one. It's very groovaliciously 1960s).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bande a Part

I was going to post on the Obama quilt show I saw this past weekend, but I wanted to write about something lighter than current events. So what do I choose? A 1960s Jean-Luc Godard film: Bande a Part (Band of Outsiders), which is considered one of the classics of French New Wave cinema.

The movie, available on Criterion, is not a happy, happy, happy good time, forget-your-troubles kind of cinematic experience. Quite the opposite. It is just the ultimate in cool, distanced, ironic amorality--and these are not traits that I possess or even especially admire--so I can't really explain why I love this movie so much. But I do.

It may be because of this one scene, which the cast referred to as "The Madison Dance."

And then a contemporary French band, Nouvelle Vague" that specializes in covers of 1980s "New Wave" songs sang "Dance with Me," which either the band itself or some enterprising YouTube fan paired with the Madison Dance. Perfect.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How much is enough?

I promised myself I wouldn’t read the economic news, but both yesterday and this morning, I couldn’t help myself. One editorial in Sunday’s paper that really stood out was Iain Levison’s Washington Post op-ed piece, “The Blow the Working Class Saw Coming:”

Levison’s piece chronicled the experience of two North Carolina day laborers that traveled sixty miles to Raleigh, N.C. to lay carpet on a job, their first paid gig since early December. The article mentions how these two and way too many others have been living the economic retrenchment for several years now, well before the rest of us started to wake up to headlines about massive job cuts and stimulus debates. Levison then pulled back his focus to contrast the experiences of the working and middle classes (whose incomes have stagnated, if not declined, and who face an uncertain future) with the privileged Wall Street kingpins (whose $1,400 trash cans, multi-million dollar compensation packages, and golden parachutes ensure luxury beyond our wildest dreams.)

Levison sums it up pretty simply: “Stop taking so much.”

And he then asks: How much is enough? Or to rephrase it a bit, what does one person need?

Which brings me to a thought experiment, jokingly posed by a friend of mine when I mentioned an interview for a temporary contract position on Friday:

“If this was an episode of the Twilight Zone, you would be faced with getting a job, OR having the stimulus package pass and OTHER people all over the country and the world finding jobs and being ‘ok’.
Being so sweet and moral, you would choose the second one, and then you would live a life poor, possibly homeless, but happy inside, being the only one who would even know you had saved the world…”

Of course this scenario is counterfactual—this isn’t the Twilight Zone (though it may be the twilight of the American Empire) and the fate of the world does not hang on my temporary contract editing and project management job, which I did get, by the way.

But my “Twilight Zone” friend has often posed Levison’s question: how much does one person need?

Let’s assume for the moment that on Friday I had been offered a $20 million salary per annum (not that I ever would be, since even the best editors do not command these numbers).

At what point out of this obscene $20 million pay-out would my basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, health care) for a LIFETIME be met? At what point would my obligations--thankfully just a modest mortgage and student loans--be paid off? At what point would any and all of my insane desires to possess something beautiful and frivolous (a mint condition beaded 1920’s dress that actually fit me, a Margaux Lange Barbie doll necklace (, a trip to Prague, a Heywood Wakefield vanity, all the books on my Amazon wish list, knee-high buttery leather black boots) be met? Even with this list, I’d have a long way to go before I spent even a million dollars. What would I do with the other 19 million after I’ve satiated every reasonable need, want, or desire?

It’s all about rewarding greed—the same greed trickling down to the ordinary folk that fueled our consumption-driven economy. Think about how such obscene compensation insulates the recipients from the consequences of their bad decisions. Think about the consequences to their employees, to their shareholders, to their communities, to this country, to the rest of the world.

So think—on this brilliantly sunny but chilly February day—about the consequences of anyone taking a $20 million salary. Even to run a company. Because in the end, who has to go without for someone to get that kind of money? Who has to lose their job or livelihood? Who has to give up dreams of independence, education, security, stability, retirement?

Perhaps in the Twilight Zone, a Wall Street kingpin indeed actually faced the choice between himself or the rest of the world…

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Signs of the times

I read today on the Craftzine blog that Craft magazine will no longer produce its print publication. I am saddened, as it was a quality publication with great production values and even better articles, projects, and ideas. It will be missed by many in the crafting community.

I am an avid reader of the sister on-line publication, the Craftzine blog, and have forwarded many of its quirky articles and projects to friends over the past few years (think yarnbombing, button wreaths, apartment walls handpainted to look like art deco wall paper, basement rec rooms decorated by Sharpie drawings, and many other mad, wonderful, beautiful expressions of artistry, whimsy, and creativity).

The loss of Craft is an example of something larger though. What disturbs me even more than the impact on the crafting world of the loss of a beloved and respected source of information, is the contraction in the publishing industry that the loss of Craft exemplifies. It's this: fewer and fewer people are buying and reading books, magazines, and newspapers. With a shrinking audience, the print publishing industry is dying and supposedly being replaced by the Internet. Now I love the Internet (Etsy, Wikipedia, Alternet, Ebay, Amazon, Huffington Post), but...

OK, so I recently lost a job in the publishing industry and so I may be reacting to my personal situation, but I think there are some larger issues to grapple with. What does this crisis in the marketplace of ideas say about the ways that individuals take in and transmit information? What does it say about the quality of information that is out there? What does it say about the future of our democracy? What does it say about where we are going as a civilization and culture? In 200 years will someone have saved books, magazines, and newspapers, like the Moors did with the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or will all this knowledge be lost? (OK, so maybe People magazine or a drugstore bodice ripper isn't worth saving, but some of what is printed is indeed valuable as a literature, as a contribution to knowledge, as a historic document. And reading and gaining knowledge is a worthwhile endeavor.)

Not the valentine I wanted to send to my friends and colleagues. But here's something you can all do. Show your love for the printed word. Buy and read something today. Buy a newspaper, a magazine, a novel. Try something you've never read before. Open yourself to a new idea or experience that comes from a source printed on paper. Who knows: you might be inspired to yarnbomb a city bus or decorate your rec room with Sharpie drawings.

The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:Shortcut to:

Change, change, and more change

What a difference four hours can make. About two and a half weeks ago, on Wednesday, January 28, 2009, my life changed profoundly. I went from reading the economic news at breakfast to becoming an economic statistic by lunchtime. Of course the 17 jobs shed at my small company wouldn't even make the back page of the local section of the newspaper, compared with the headline-making catastrophic job losses at Caterpillar (22,000 jobs--sheesh) or General Motors.

But one of the thousands of jobs shed in the month of January, on that bone-chillingly damp Wednesday was mine. This event forces me to take stock and make (I hope) positive changes in my life goals, in my consumption habits, in my activities, in my relationship to my community, friends, and family, and in my career path. It's a journey--perhaps one that I wouldn't have chosen to make--and this blog-writing exercise is part of that journey.

Having studied history, I can't help but be fascinated by the larger historical forces at play in the Great Debacle of 2008, even as I am dealing with my own personal situation (update a resume, find freelance work, find a JOB. With health insurance.) Like Thucydides, even as I participate in these events on an intensely personal level, I'll observe and chronicled the experience. (Though if my blog postings actually survive through next year, let alone across the millenia, I'd be mighty surprised.) But I'll be sharing my observations about anything and everything in the coming weeks and months with anyone who cares to read them.

P.S. I confess that I never drank the expensive coffee drinks. I always helped myself to the free coffee in my warm office.