Another Idea

July 30, 2020

Remember this post?  I had another idea: anti-vaxxers.  @Cklosterman (that’s how this works, right?)

Food, Huh, Yeah What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing.

July 28, 2020

“Then she’d smelled spaghetti.  Byron had a tincture of this artificial odor on his desk, for sniffing when he ate his meals, which were flavorless nutritional shakes (the shakes were weird enough, but Hazel also couldn’t understand how the only food smell he used was spaghetti.  “Don’t you want to smell something else, for variety?” she used to ask him.  “A cinnamon roll?  A bucket of chicken?”  He’d blink once, twice, then shake his head no.)  Aside from these shakes he really didn’t eat, preferring to get weekly transdermal supplements via pneumatic injection guns.  Eating grossed him out; he felt it was antiquated and menial.  He’d want to get a implanted in his abdomen where he could delivery daily sustenance to his stomach via a gel or blended material, some texture just bulky enough that his digestive organs wouldn’t atrophy, but he’d decided against it since eating is such a metaphorical act across all cultures.  Byron worried that it might affect his business dealings if others, particularly foreign partners from European countries that didn’t romanticize efficiency, found out he did not participate in calorie swallowing and traditional digestion.”

Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting (which you should definitely read right now)

So anyone who knows me knows I have a knee-jerk horror of all the ways Big Tech attempts to hack human’s essential animalness.  Eliminating death, freezing your eggs and implanting them when you’re 80 and unable to put in 15 hours a day at Google so you can give birth to your grandchild: that kind of stuff gives me the willies.  And yet, and YET, I think I maybe coming around on the whole let’s-get-rid-of-food thing.

This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I’ve been home with all three other members of my family, responsible for 97% of meals (save the breakfasts my husband makes––that’s the easiest meal of the day, though––and the very occasional evening we order out for dinner) since March 9th, when schools closed and life as we knew it ceased.  That’s a lot of meals.  Particularly for someone who from the word go, finds food pretty dull.

I mean look, it’s fine.  It’s just a whole lot of work (and time! and money!) for fine.  If I could eat 1-2 enormous meals of my favorite food every day, I probably would basically like it (3 meals is a bit of a to-do for me).  If someone brought me a bagel sandwich or a plate of sushi or a steak with French fries and spinach whenever I was ravenous, that would be cool.  But given where we are right now in the world, it’s taking all my creativity to pour cereal into a bowl.  I think the other day I gave each of my kids half of a stale bagel with a pat of cold butter smushed into it and a cut up cucumbers and told them to get lost.

So the other day I was wondering if there are any times in human history other than Soylent when people––scientists, wackos, wacko scientists––tried to eliminate food.  I don’t mean anorexics.  Even Gandhi or that chick Naveena Shine, who tried to go 100 days living on sunlight (she made it 47), aren’t really embodying what I’m looking for.  I’m not into eliminating food for either destructive or transcendent reasons: it’s solely just to avoid constant drudgery of deciding what to eat, procuring it, cooking it, cleaning up after it.  It’s just a bit much!  I’m hoping for a neat little pill, or that brown (but apparently tasty?) mush from Defending Your Life.  (Feel free to throw other cinematic or literary references my way.)  Unfortunately at the moment Soylent is really the only option out there, but it’s a little too corporate for my tastes.  There’s a whole DIY Soylent movement (hahahahaha people are so weird!) apparently, but now we’re asking for more of a time commitment than I’m comfortable with (it also has a whole “get healthy” agenda and again, I don’t care about that––I’m not out to optimize anything, just eliminate one more thing to do).

When I was a young anorexic, in my second hospital program, they gave us Boost, commonly marketed toward the elderly, as replacement calories when we declined to finish a meal or snack.  This was not a unique feature of the program: the previous program I’d been in did the same with Ensure, and the one I went to after this one actually put you on an all-liquid diet if you came in below a certain BMI.  At this particular program I’m talking about, the Boost was meant to act as a punishment: even if you didn’t finish, say, one pretzel from a bag of pretzels, you’d still get an entire can of Boost, so obviously the calorie intake doesn’t at all even out there.  And yet at some point, for whatever reason, all the girls in our program decided that Boost was by far the easier way to go.  Forget the anxiety inherent in slicing your meant, the awkwardness of trying not to eat as fast as your neighbor, all those intrusive textures and flavors and temperatures, the occasional time we had to actually choose what to eat (the horror)!  Just make it all the same and get rid of

Eventually a therapist caught on to the fact that we had stopped thinking of Boost as something to be avoided and had started actively replacing our food with it (I think they overhead one of the girls saying offhandedly that it “tasted like cake”).  The main therapist, who probably smoked three packs a day and had the voice to prove it, gave us all a big lecture, but honestly, she should have just saluted us: we were the way of the future!

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Or now.

Long Post

July 19, 2020

I’ve really been hoping to do a longer post for a while now, but you know, pandemic living has got me (and basically everyone else) down.  So I’m just posting this dumb thing in hopes of looking like as diligent a blogger as Jason Kottke––better a stopgap measure to save face than nothing at all!

Here’s my thought: I saw a think piece on why Twister is the best 90s disaster movie the other day.  I say “saw” because I didn’t actually read the think piece––who has that kind of time?!––but instead just nodded in bemused agreement.  Sure, that seems reasonable to me.  (Also, what else qualifies as a 90s disaster movie?  I guess I was thinking “natural disaster,” although when you Google the phrase it suggests films like Titanic and Independence Day.)  So I put it on when I was cleaning the other day, was mildly amused for the first fifteen or so, and then just started doing something else and didn’t bother to finish it.  But what those first fifteen minutes made me realize is that I am really missing something from my life: the thrill of the chase!  Not romantic chase, of course.  More like, that feeling when you’re with your pals and you all want a glimpse of something mighty and ephemeral and then someone says, “It’s close!” and you all race to jump in your cars and you’re radioing to each other, “Make a left!” and “Don’t let it get away!”  You know, the chase.

I think maybe I just want to be a storm chaser, although I don’t love tornadoes.  A monsoon could be cool.

Good talk eh?

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Hahahaha

June 12, 2020

For work I get the online dispatches from the medical journal JAMA, and today one of their headlines is below.  What an understatement!

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Really?

June 7, 2020

Is “maga” slang in Nigeria for moron?  How has this not come up before?

“The more he talks, the more I realize that I am a maga––a fool who has been taken advantage of.”

~ My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite

Tehching Hsieh’s Lessons for Quarantine

June 2, 2020

Earlier on in #quarantinelife, I was a virtual ideas machine.  Seriously golden nuggets were just falling out of my mouth every time I spoke.  I actually was a little annoyed, because I had more ideas in the span of eight weeks than I had in the previous three years, when I actually had at least a little free time to execute them.  Now that time is basically over, which is sad but also perhaps freeing, in its way.

One of the ideas I had during the brief moment of intellectual fertility was to interview the performance artist Tehching Hsieh about what he has to say about how to live under quarantine.  Hsieh is famous for his series of One Year Performances: for one year each, he punched a time clock every hour on the hour (sometimes called Time Clock Piece), never went indoors, lived in an 11’6″ x 9′ x 8′ cell (Cage Piece) and remained tied by an 8-foot rope to fellow performance artist Linda Montano (Rope Piece), with whom he was not romantically linked at the time and actually didn’t know before the piece began (this feels important to point out).

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The one I thought spoke to the most to our current moment was the performance where he lived in the cell, because of the obvious comparison that while we were all feeling cooped up, he was quite literally cooped up: no Netflix, no sourdough starters, no Times digital subscription or Quarantine Chat or anything at all.  He didn’t even make eye contact with the visitors who were allowed in every three weeks (totaling nineteen times a year).  This is how he described his life during that year:

Thinking was the focus of this piece and was also my way of survival.  While doing this piece, thinking was my major job.  It doesn’t matter what I was thinking about, but I had to continue thinking, otherwise I would lose control not only of myself but also of the ability to handle the whole situation.  It was difficult to pass time.  I scratched 365 marks on the wall, one for each day.  I had to calculate time; although I may have broken the rule of no writing, it helped me to know how many days I had passed, how many more days I had to go.  

More:

What I needed was the use of my confined body to carry out the work, while at the same time, my mind, detached from the confinement, was free to think and to advance. I am as free in the cage as outside.  My work here is not focusing on political imprisonment or on the self-cultivation of Zen retreats, but on freedom of thinking and on letting time go by. 

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He also talked about dividing his cell into different “rooms” in his mind, and breaking up his day by going on a walk “outside” (aka around the cell) and then returning “home” (his bed).

But then the more I thought about this, the more I realized that for me, actually the most analogous situation was the piece he did with Linda Montano.  I am, after all, not alone in my quarantine, but inside a decently-sized-for-NYC-but-not-big apartment 99% of my time with two small children and my husband (so actually, my version of this would be being tied to another artist and two young monkeys).  I’m sure some young-and-in-love types would hear about this piece and be like, “Oh, that sounds so lovely, being with someone all the time!”  But my response is: OMG no.  And it turns out that actually, Hsieh and Montano ended up really disliking each other.  Hsieh puts it diplomatically (“Linda and I were exposed to each other.  That brought complexity.”) but Marina Abramovic, in supplementary material provided for the publication of the book Out of Now, which chronicles Hsieh’s work, provides more insight:

But with Tehching and Linda there was no love.  I was really puzzled by scratches above their two separate beds where they slept.  Later on, I heard that they didn’t get along and in frustration they scratched the walls with their nails.  They had made this promise and they are both very fatalistic in their work so they didn’t want to break it.  

Interestingly, my husband felt like the piece that best mirrored our current times is the Time Clock Piece.  Why?  Because he is being asked to “clock in” without any sort of actual supervision and without actually going anywhere, I think was the gist.  Not to say that Hsieh didn’t have people to whom he was accountable––usually lawyers or other third parties were in charge of making sure he was doing what he agreed to.  And my husband also pointed out, intelligently, that the homeless populations in cities affected by COVID-19 might be represented by the piece where Hsieh stays outdoors entirely for a year, as many might be trying to actively avoid shelters, where crowding makes contagion even more likely.

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So I wrote to Hsieh, asking him if maybe he’d be willing to be interviewed and tell me a bit about how he feels his art relates to this moment, etc.  And he responded quickly!  And nicely!  And said no.

The beginning of his email read: I’m open to the connection you are building between the current situation and my work, at the meantime my work is about passing time, rather than how to pass time, I’m afraid it won’t the best for me to talk about my work in relation to the current situation.

Which reads a little like fancy art world speak for, “You obviously didn’t get my point, plebeian” to me.  But yes, of course I do understand that allowing time to continue on passively is not the same thing as figuring out what to do with your time (eye roll emoji).  That doesn’t negate the obvious question here: what on earth did you think about for an entire year?!

Hope you are doing well, although we all feel constrained in a way, at least we still have free thinking.

Said a person living with two toddlers… never.

Pugwashisms

May 10, 2020

Last summer, my kids and I were lucky enough to be invited to spend a few days at a friend’s family’s summer house, on a rather magical island in the Atlantic with a long, bright beach and a weird little petting zoo and a giant pond of salty water smack dab in the middle.  The friend’s family had an excellent collection of vintage children’s books, including a few about Captain Pugwash, a rather inept pirate who gets his crew into all sorts of pickles (due to said ineptitude) and has to rely on his savvy but unacknowledged cabin boy, Tom, to save the day.  I wish I could find an image of this one page which just depicts Pugwash dreaming about having a normal life and tending to a garden, but humans are idiots and therefore most of the stuff that comes up on Google Images is related to the not nearly as charmingly illustrated film, and not the books.

Anyway, apparently Pugwash has a number of funny sayings he uses when he’s miffed, which Wikipedia has helpfully compiled.  Work this into your every day repertoire, folks.

“Dolloping doubloons/dolphins!”
“Coddling catfish!”
“Lolloping landlubbers!”
“Suffering seagulls!”
“Staggering stalactites!”
“Nautical nitwits!”
“Plundering porpoises!”
“Kipper me capstans!”
“Tottering turtles!”
“Dithering dogfish!”
“Scuttling cuttlefish!”
“Stuttering starfish!”
“Blistering barnacles!”
“Shuddering sharks!”

Nothing

May 1, 2020

“What is nothing?” I ask.

“Nothing is when you are given a very small portion of ice cream by an adult, and you look at the plate and at the adult and you ask for more and the adult says you have a huge portion and you say, ‘That’s it?  That’s nothing.’  And that is nothing,” says Lulu.

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Hey Willy, See the Pyramids by Maira Kalman

Eff Off

April 12, 2020

Thank you for driving home how utterly trapped I am right now.  #letitdie

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Lego Auschwitz

March 29, 2020

Libera, Lego Concentration Camp

From the beginning, Konzentrationslager caused a huge sensation, with viewers split on whether it was an important work or a travesty. Depicting genocide with a toy made people uncomfortable. Some Holocaust activists saw the work as trivializing the experiences of survivors, while others disagreed. The Jewish Museum in New York City displayed the sets for several months in 2002 as part of an exhibit on Nazi imagery in modern art.

Even LEGO joined in the criticism, complaining that [artist Zbigniew] Libera hadn’t told the company what he was intending when it donated the bricks and that this contribution didn’t constitute sponsorship as implied by the packaging’s labeling. LEGO tried to get Libera to stop displaying the work, backing down from its pressure only after the artist hired a lawyer.

From The Cult of Lego by John Baichtal and Joe Meno