"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

The Challenge / "I'm Long On The Internet"

I don't doubt that the Earth, the miracle of life, and probably even the human species have a long future, but our particular mode of living seems not long for the world. When you stop and think about the challenges that we're actually facing, and then you take a look at what we collectively invest our time and energy in, it's hard not to feel discouraged. This is what I'm referring to when I say there's an "undercurrent of doom" out there. I preach a dark future, etc.

Except really I don't. Apocalyptic thinking is contagious but ultimately not very insightful, and dispair has the downside of being both depressing and ineffective. Knowing is half the battle, so one place to start is thinking about the challenge.

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"Hedonism Is So Distracting"

I had a dream the other morning, in the fitful and usually dreamless hour between my ambitious/idealistic first alarm clock and when I actually get out of bed. I don't recall all the details, but the gist of it was a scene of opulent excess, an enormous feast, only in that particular dream-like way something was wrong. I don't know whether it was the undercurrent of doom, barbarians at the gate, flood-tide rising, or just everyone's declining cardiovascular fitness; I just remember saying to one of my companions, "hedonism is so distracting".

And so it is, and this is a growing concern of mine.

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Up With People

So I feel the need to expand on my previous posts expressing some pessimistic thoughts and doubts about humanity. I got some reactions from people, which means I touched a nerve, which is good, but I want to express an underlying opinion.

I've often hit on the twitter-thought above from dustincurrie. Life is fundamentally an anti-entropic force. At the universe-level, thermodynamics still wins (we think), but at any other scale, any scale that actually matters to us, what makes Life Life (and in some ways People People) is that we build things. We assemble, compile, amalgamate, reconfigure. We create complexity from the soup, whether it's protoplasmic algae pulling carbon out of the air and combining it with solar radiation to create hydrocarbons or the global human-hive that's currently doing an unplanned terraforming exercise on the whole planet. We're unique like that, and this is pretty special.

Life is Holy and Every Moment Precious.

This isn't a scientific or rational belief. It's fundamentally a romantic one, but I also think it's pragmatic. I believe that our lived experience comes from a combination of fantasies and reality, neither of which we can really address directly or independently. However, we can sometimes choose (or at least slowly steer) our fantasy, which adjusts the possible and helps us have a different experience, which ultimately leads to different outcomes, which impacts reality. Lather, rinse, recurse, and you have my basic theory of social change through culture.

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Talk On Hubirs

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Another Rec

Oh man, for my drive up to Oregon I downloaded this Radio Open Source interview with Ken Burns by Chris Lydon, one of the great and stately warhorses of public-interest radio. I love listening to Chris do his crazy intellectual thing, and he consistently gets really interesting people to open up in interesting ways. His show is cool.

Anyway, Ken Burns talks about his WWII documentary "The War," which I haven't seen, and it's really an insanely great conversation. They spend minimal time talking about process and other stuff, as Lydon being pushing him on the dangers of nostalgia and sentimentality regarding the horrors of war. In response Burns goes on an improvisational 3-minute solliloquy about the higher emotional states which defy explanation or logic, the necessity of such transcendent forces in art, and the fact that if you want to receive this blessing, you have to risk both abject failure as well as collapse into sentimentality and simple nostalgia. He also has a great -- and vicious! -- attack on the corrosive nature of irony, and calls the History Channel the Hitler Channel. Bravo.

The listening experience left me with my head buzzing about Art with a capital A, and a new respect for Mr. Burns. Worthy.

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So Saturday night I got back up on that art horse (which I've only been talking about for eight or nine months, so that's pretty good), and did a nice little talking piece at our christmas party talent show. [[T.S.L.|Text is here]]. It was very well received, and even though it was far from my best work, it was up to my own standards and I was pleased. I haven't shown off that side of myself too much since I moved out here, so it was nice to be able to let the artist out, to do something worthwhile with people's attention.

It turned out to be a more preachin' thing than I'd originally intended. That reading was latent in the verse and I'd just chosen not to rehearse it with that in mind, but the crowd responded on that wavelength, and our home in Westhaven was the original community church, so it seemed appropriate. It also made me realize the last time I did something performative I was officiating Frank and Laura's wedding.

Maybe I should just go with it, create myself a guru preacher character. I like being coy and vulnerable too much to go full out Reverend with it, but at the same time the form doesn't have to be so didactic, and it could really work for a lot of things.

To be honest, as an adult I've always equated art with religion. My training tended towards the ritual and having come up without a conventional religious framework, the process of creativity and the divinity of Really Good Performance/Product are what underpin any personal notions I have of mysticism and magic. It's a human and social thing for me, the moments the acts evoke. It's old-time; clap hands and all.

Anyway, it left me more exhausted than ever, but feeling high and mighty in my soul.

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Spectatorship vs Participation (Romancing the Lookey-Loos)

Here's a great and lengthy quote from Air Guitar, an essay entitled Romancing the Lookey-Loos which starts off with a moment of Waylon Jennings on tour, and goes on to explore the difference between spectators and participants in Art.

It's quite a brilliant essay, and which I think it cuts to the quick of what my shit is all about in both art and in politics:

[Spectators] were non-participants, people who did not live the life -- people with no real passion for what was going on on. They were just looking. They paid their dollar at the door, but they contributed nothing to the occasion -- afforded no confirmation or denial that you could work with or around or against.

With spectators, as Waylon put it, it's a one-way deal, and in the whole idea was not to be one of them... Even so, [growing up] it wasn't something we discussed of even though about, since the possibility of any of us spectating or being spectated was fairly remote. It is, however, something worth thinking about today, since, with the professionalization of the art world, and the dissolution of the underground cultures that once fed into it, the distinction between spectators and participants is dissolving as well.

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The Circle Game

I'm feeling it. Well, actually, I'm totally fucking exhausted to the point of being goofball jittery, but sitting here on a borrowed bed after spending a week dancing along the edge of what I can really do as a person, I'm all strung out, a little hung over, but sizzlingly alive. It's hard to articulate. Words fail, but General Tso's Tofu provides.

Earlier this week I visited with Bill, my Pa, my step-father, father of my sister, who was around the house from when I was about three until I left home and did me a world of good in-between. He and my mom had a really interesting relationship, one which reached a romantic coda when I was a teenager (and was ergo semi-oblivious to this, or perhaps just too self-absorbed to care) but they stayed together as a logical family unit until my sister left for college.

He's married now to a wonderful artist named Patti -- hence the domain name -- who's lives most of her life out in DC, and who he (and my mom) have been friends with since they were wild and young. Yeah. Life is strange that way. I remember meeting Patti when I was a kid in Iowa when we were out there one summer on the farm, her and her then-husband Skip -- who was part of the wild and young thing too -- come out to visit and break the news that Skip had cancer. Skip died. We all went to his funeral in DC. They played The Circle Game.

Patti is dying now too. Same cause. All things considered I was impressed by how well she's holding up, and Bill's doing a stellar job of taking care of her, but it's clear where things are going and it was bittersweet seeing her; made me feel sick to my stomach to say goodbye.

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Threads of Opportunity

As a follow up to the previous post declaring my new tag -- The New Cultural Movement -- I'd like to outline some of the specific threads of opportunity that I see as being germane here. This is kind of internally remedial for me, but seems like a good exercise anyway, and probably helpful for others to get a sense of the scope of things.

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Scaling Satisfaction

Out last night watching some boxing on the pay per view with The Girth, then over to shoot a little pool at the ACME. The omnipresent question between the two of us is what the hell we're doing with our lives as "careers" begin to take off but everything else stagnates and the world around us seems to veer inexorably toward the ditch. What does it take to get a little satisfaction?

Harkening back to my post on Maslow's Pyramid of Human Needs, there's something wired into me and most of my friends that drives us to want to help people out, to look outward with a problem-solving eye. There's a kind of juice one gets from this that can't be replicated any other way, the cheap and generally unprofitable thrill of Doin' Right.

Mark's hooked on this too, via Americorps. There might be more money in being an artisan handyman, building fences from special Japanese cedar boards for the neo-bohemian HC bourgeoisie, but at the end of the day he says it can't touch the rush of helping a kid with a fucked up life steady his or her feet and move in a positive direction as a human being. Even though the latter pays less than minimum wage -- Americorps workers get s "stipend" and instructions on applying for food stamps, something that I find extremely unjust -- he's back again for another tour of duty.

For my part, I don't get this feeling too much from my work. Bootstrapping a business is kind of a cutthroat process, or at least one that requires a primary focus on self-interest. While I got a good charge out of starting the Drupal Dojo, and a healthy portion of our clients are do-gooders of one stripe or another, the main thing for the past 10 months has been figuring out how to pay the bills in a steady and dependable fashion.

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