26 February 2013

Refrigerator Art

Because I didn't post a picture last time, this week you get two. It's Art (note the capital!). Refrigerator Art, to be precise, because that is its locus. No, not its focus - what that is, I leave you to decide for yourself; just the locus - the place where it's at. Or where it was when I created it - Art is transient; it's all been moved around since then. Art is also in the eye of the Beholder. That's called Reader Response Criticism, or something. Probably something.

So here you are: one Poem, entitled "Midsummer Night's Ball":

Midsummer Night's Ball

And then, there's a Sculpture (note capital!). No, not a Sculpture really - an Arrangement? Oh, I know: it's a Visual Poem (note: TWO capitals!). It's entitled - ummm... how about "Untitled"? That means you can pick whatever title suits you. Go for it. (Incidentally, they're little bendable magnetic guys which I picked up at the San Francisco airport, in the SFMOMA gift shop. Aren't they cute?)


Life, the Universe, and Refrigerator Art. Magnetising, ain't it.

19 February 2013

Rabbit Trails and Dust Bunnies

Things I learned about today: the meaning of "heuristic"; Burma; Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (no, not the Duke of Wellington. This guy was his brother.); Singapore; Stamford Raffles; the fact that Queen Victoria at age 44 looked about 60, and that John Brown was a couple of years younger than her; where Jaipur and Udaipur are on a map of India; that Wellington was the Queen's great-great-great-something-uncle; that the Queen Mum grew up in Glamis Castle (you know, as in Macbeth? Thane of Glamis? Except her dad was the real deal, and didn't murder any kings, either.) and that she rejected her husband's marriage proposal twice because she didn't want to be a member of the Royal Family (never mind queen)... oh, and probably a few other things that I'll remember at some opportune moment. And all of that while I was supposed to be reading a chapter in Alastair Pennycook's The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language.

You see, I get off on rabbit trails. Wikipedia is really bad for that. You look up Wellesley because he's mentioned in the book, and it says on the wiki that he was the Queen's great-great-great-etc-grandfather, so you click on the link about the Queen, and then on one about the Queen Mum, and so on and so forth... And then you finally wrench yourself back to the textbook, and read about Malay, and you realize you have no clue what exactly they're talking about, so back to Google you go. Half an hour and several dozen rabbit trails later you emerge, and drag yourself back to your book, only to be confronted with the name Stamford Raffles, as if this was somebody your mother went to Kindergarten with and you'd heard about him all your life. So of course you have to look him up; information is important, isn't it? Lippity-lop down the rabbit trail...

And you know what's at the end of the rabbit trails? Dust bunnies, that's what. You see, the more rabbit trails you follow in the course of your day, the less time you have to get out your trusty ostrich-feather duster, or your not-quite-so-trusty cordless rechargeable dust buster, and go after the fluffy little critters in the corners of you living room and under the couches. So they multiply, growing by leaps and bounds. Which is probably why they're called dust bunnies, those leaps and bounds. Lippity-lop... A house with dust bunnies is a sure sign that its inhabitants are prone to following rabbit trails.

Incidentally, I wonder if Stamford Raffles had anything to do with raffle tickets? Maybe he was the original fundraiser, selling draw tickets for early-nineteenth-century arts and crafts to support his trip to Asia, and that activity was called "raffling" after him. Eh? I'm going to have to look it up.

Life, the Universe, and Rabbit Trails. Beware the dust bunnies at the end of them.

10 February 2013


A couple of days ago, one of my friends posted this link on Facebook: "You don't need pills for depression - you need books, says British agency". To save you the hassle of reading the article, it says - well, it says just what's in the title. Apparently this organization in the UK called "The Reading Agency" is working on getting books prescribed to patients with depression; and what's really cool about it is that they have the backing of the Department of Health and a few other high-up official bodies with clout. They've compiled a list of "mood-boosting" books, and it will be made into a pamphlet and handed out by doctors to their depressed patients. Whoot! I wish I lived in the UK - bibliotherapy, that's my kind of antidepressant prescription.

Now, of course, I've been self-medicating with bibliotherapy all my life. Okay, all my life since I was six and first picked up Der kleine Lord (aka Little Lord Fauntleroy), and puzzled out the first line, "Cedric himself knew nothing whatever about it". I haven't looked back since. But, really, even before that epic moment, I lived in stories. Stories that were read to me, stories that were told to me. (None that I watched, at that point, because we didn't have a TV, let alone go to the movies - we were kind of old-fashioned that way.) In fact, quite likely the reason I picked up Little Lord Fauntleroy and taught myself to read was that there were never enough people around who were willing to read to me, so I had to become self-sufficient (on the same principle, I got my driver's license as soon as I possibly could, because I was tired of being dependent on other people to drive me around).

In case you missed my point, I love books. I adore books. I - well, no, I wouldn't go so far as to say I worship books. One does not worship the air one breathes, or the food one lives on. Truly, I don't think I could live without books. Then again - it's not actually the books I love. Yes, I do love the physical objects, too - I enjoy handling them, fixing them, sorting them, looking at them nicely arranged on the shelves; I could be quite happy working in a book bindery or the processing department of a library (where they put the call number stickers on the spine, and the clear sticky foil around the dust covers). But what I really love is what's in books. I love Story; I live in Story.

And Story comes in many forms. Books are just one of them. See, I'm fully aware that book nerds like myself aren't actually terribly common. Oh, there's plenty of us, alright - you should see the crowds I have to elbow my way through to get to the book tables at the annual library discard sale. But compared to the crowds at, say, a ballgame, or the opening of the latest blockbuster movie, well...

But that's just it: the latest blockbuster movie. Movies are Story. TV shows are Story. Most computer games are Story. Even ballgames, or the Olympics, are Story - "...and Schlipfengrimmler passed the ball to Schustermeier, and he hit the most amazing strike of his career, and - GOOOAAAL!!" It gets told, and re-told, over and over. Blockbuster movies are blockbusters because so many people love them. In fact, I don't know anyone, not one single person, who does not like Story in one form or another.

Now, much as I love and thoroughly, wholeheartedly, approve of the bibliotherapy the Brits are prescribing to their depressed patients, I would love even more to see that idea expanded. Not everyone loves reading, and (though this might sound sacrilegious to my fellow book nerds, librarians and literacy teachers) I don't think everyone needs to, either. But I think much, much more could be done with Story. Everyone needs Story. I believe everyone enjoys Story, so everyone could benefit from Story.

I'm not sure what to call it - Storyotherapy? Narratotherapy? Oh, I know - the Latin word for story is fabula. Fabulatherapy. Fabulous!

Now wouldn't it be great if, next time you go to the doctor because you're feeling lousy, the doc would pull out his prescription pad, and started asking: "Now, what's your favourite form of stories? You like movies? Hmm, let's see, where is my list of the most uplifting, serotonin-boosting films of all times? Ah, here we are. Take two, and call me in the morning!" I'm sure that studies would prove that there are zero side effects, and that Fabulatherapy is the most cost-effective and best-tolerated treatment they could prescribe.

But until that happy day arrives, we can always continue to self-medicate. Story is all around - pick your favourite kind, and get lost in another world. It works.

Life, the Universe, and Fabulatherapy. Fabulous, isn't it?

07 February 2013

The Deep Meaning of a Dream

I had a dream this morning, just before I woke up. With my backpack on, I was walking through the Bavarian mountain village where I went to high school, looking for the book store at the centre of town. But it turned out it wasn't there any more. Then I was talking to a lady from the tourist information bureau, which happened to be in this little cottagey place next to where the bookstore was supposed to be, and I asked her when the next bus would leave so I could get back to the train station - but the buses, she said, were no longer running, either; they hadn't been for quite some time. Of course I hadn't been to the village in over twenty years, so I didn't know that. I think there was some other weird stuff in the dream, but I can't remember it; I just woke up.

Those of you who are into dream interpretation are probably salivating right now: what does it all mean? Deep, psychological, Freudian, spiritual and all that - or what? What. I'm afraid that the meaning of my dreams - and I have lots, all the time - is simply that the stuff I dream about is something I've thought about during the preceding day.

In this case, it had to do with the fact that yesterday I was at the local drug store, and they're changing ownership and are therefore clearing all their shelves and rearranging everything in the store. They've changed hands before, but usually all that happened was that the sign over the door had the name of a different drug store chain on it. This time, they're getting rid of most of their stock, presumably to start stocking the new chain's house brand, and they're no longer carrying the herbal iron tonic I went there to buy (the shelf it used to be on was full of dozens of jars of a food substitute weight loss product. I was offended.). And when I left the drug store, I saw a big sign on the video rental place next door: "Store Closing". It was one of the last holdouts of video rentals; all the big chains in town closed a few years ago. Alas, now we won't have this one any more, either; we'll be dependent on Youtube or the library for our entertainment. So there you have the reason why in my dream everything was closed or gone or cancelled.

As for why I was looking for that book store in the first place, just before going to sleep I was reading Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther". I haven't read it in thirty years, since grade 10, and my little yellow-covered paperback copy (published by Reclam, as all German required school readings are) came from that book store. It's got my teenaged scribblings in the margins ("S u D!" it says beside the passage where Werther first meets Lotte and is so smitten he can't even produce a coherent paragraph when he's trying to describe the experience to his friend Wilhelm. It is, of course, the perfect example of Sturm und Drang, the original emo culture.).

So there you have it: the deep meaning of my dream is to be found in bedtime reading and errands run in the afternoon. Oh, and once I got up, while I was consuming my breakfast toast, I booted up Google and did some research: the bookstore in that village is still in existence, and so is the bus line that runs to and from the train station. So the dream wasn't even prophetic, not in the slightest bit. I'm glad.

Life, the Universe, and Deep Meanings of Dreams. What have you dreamt recently?