becoming post human

mac computerIn a smart and emotional article in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan concludes:

There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived. And I realize that this is, in some ways, just another tale in the vast book of human frailty. But this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls.

He is bordering the territory I explore in my forthcoming book, Inside the Flame, tracking the erosion of human interaction, of rich sensory experiences created by spending our lives bombarded with, and connected to electronica. Worse—it’s addictive, and even though my book is devoted to direct discovery of the tactile world, I admit that I spend far too much time lurking around the political miasma-du-jour, celebrity break-ups, cinema backstories, and just about anything Zappos wants to tempt me with. (to be continued)

free time flow chart

Many people feel that the time they spend at work is essentially wasted — they are alienated from it, and the psychic energy invested in the job does nothing to strengthen their self. For quite a few people free time is also wasted. Leisure provides a relaxing respite from work, but it generally consists of passively absorbing information, without using any skills or exploring new opportunities for action. As a result life passes in a sequence of boring and anxious experiences over which a person has little control.

That’s a quote from a famous book called Flow, by a man with a complicated name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I’ll just refer to him as M.C.).

wavesLet’s unpack this for a moment. Yes, absolutely most people feel that time spent at work (which I’m assuming is a 9 to 5 situation) is “essentially wasted.” And it’s work in which our emotions and creativity are rarely engaged, e.g. administration, shipping and receiving, prepping ingredients at the restaurant.

M.C. goes on to say that many of us also waste our free time, the so-called “down time” in which we can do whatever we please outside the narrow, drab sphere of the workplace. He points out that Continue readingfree time flow chart

grand slam

The current New Yorker cover illustration by Christoph Niemann brought back a tingling rush of pleasure for those long summer days during graduate school when I played more than my fair share of tennis.

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The body’s arc of contraposto just before letting loose the serve, the ball tossed to the exact point in space where the racquet would soon hit. The illustration is a master class in graphic design. Minimum of shapes and colors. The long reach of the arm almost pushing through the magazine cover. The beautiful expanse of sky blue, echoed by a gathering of blue ovals to suggest the crowds watching the U.S. Open. I can feel the heat and the tension of the game. The crowning achievement of this delicious image is the placement of the tennis ball—exactly on the spot of the “O” in “YORKER.” A slam dunk for the eyes!

You can watch an animated version of this illustration—or you can get out on the court and play!

Indignation: film review

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Screenwriter James Schamus turns director with this supple adaptation of the 2008 Philip Roth novel Indignation, starring Logan Lerman as socially innocent, intellectually precocious Marcus Messner, son of a kosher butcher from Newark, New Jersey. We meet Marcus as he prepares to leave home for a Winesburg Ohio college, thereby avoiding the Korean War draft. Both the father (played with incessant anxiety by Danny Burstein) and his wife (a smoldering Linda Emond) have high hopes for their brilliant son. Assigned to room with two other non-Gentiles, Marcus throws himself into his studies, rankles at the required chapel services, and finds himself entranced by Olivia, a blonde shiksa with sexual experience (a disarming Sarah Gadon).

Schamus has managed to pull off a tricky balance of Roth’s tangled portrait of a young man’s coming of age, against the backdrop of parents who no longer know him and the isolation of his uncompromising intelligence. After his uncomfortable dorm situation comes undone—triggered by an event of sexual candor between Marcus and his new girlfriend—the high-strung freshman is called into the dean’s office.

Well here the film dares to be true to its literary roots, Continue readingIndignation: film review

art imitates life

Painter Hildy Bernstein is an existentialist and a shamanic seeker. In her relentless artwork she probes her own unconscious as well as the unseen world of mythic archetypes. She waits, all her skills ready like the sword of a trained fighter, until that elusive something (meaning?) begins to materialize. And then she makes her move.

Hildy.imageWhat she captures—retrieves from her solitary vision quest—is ours to decipher. She makes no claims as to what the faces, and haunted moments of somebody’s history, might mean. But she brings it to us to savor. To contemplate. And to find within the work some new aspect of our own lives. Some of it is confrontational, even difficult to consider. All of it is authentic.

For more about the work of Hildy Bernstein see my June 2016 profile of her. The work of this fearless artist will be on exhibit starting Saturday, September 24th at the wild and gala Anne & Mark’s Art Party in San Jose, through October 1.

behind the Big Screen

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I’m a fool for Big Screen movies. No hand-held device, no TV, no laptop will ever be able to deliver that tangible, chewable breathtaking immersion in another reality that movies seen in a theater can do.

Before you think “oh how yesterday,” consider the obvious. Movies in a darkened theater force your full attention onto that screen and into the action, into the lives, fortunes, and dangers of characters who come to life — larger-than-life! — for two hours.

The darkness places us in a magical space, a space without distraction (yes Millenials, it’s possible). Hence everything we see is intensified. The visual impact of huge figures, explosions, long, burning kisses, it not only a feast for the eyes, but an orgy for our bodies. Film is a physical experience, delivering through our bodies the sense that we have actually been somewhere new, different, exotic that looking at a photograph or even watching a play simply cannot emulate.

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So why is that an image of Matt Damon at the top of this post? Because I have been thinking about Jason Bourne for a few weeks now. The fifth installment of Robert Ludlum’s anguished, buffed, amnesia-driven CIA operative continues to pack a wallop. (Full disclosure: I have no problem watching buffed men fighting other buffed men. On the screen, that is. My mother enjoyed watching men at construction sites. She drove very slowly by road crews pointing out the areas of interest. She claimed to have been fascinated with heavy machinery. . .  so I grew up having her point out men on rooftops, usually without shirts, sweating in the hot sun over righteous labor. The apple doesn’t fall very far, etc. etc.)

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At any rate, while the latest Bourne installment lacks the incendiary opening chases that have distinguished some of the others, notably The Bourne Ultimatum, it does offer a voyeuristic glimpse of Matt Damon’s enduring abdominal aesthetic before careening through a cascade of surveillance pornography that is, I’ll admit, very much to my taste. Continue readingbehind the Big Screen

ode to a frozen Charlotte

What is this? I asked the saleswoman at the store in Berkeley.  I held in my hand a tiny white figure of a little girl made of porcelain, with one arm missing. That’s a “frozen Charlotte” she smiled. There was a cautionary tale behind this figurine: it told of a girl who froze to death because—on a cold winter’s night— she refused to cover up her party dress with a coat.

The little dolls were a penny a piece in the late Victorian era—little girls in Europe and America loved them. And the bowl filled with gleaming white Charlottes had called to me. I brought one home.charlotte

The name comes from a poem written by poet, Seba Smith, who was inspired by a real-life story. A vain young woman, who refused to wrap herself in a warm coat on a winter’s night, froze to death riding to a New Year’s Eve ball in an open sleigh.

O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,“This blanket ’round you fold; It is a dreadful night tonight, You’ll catch your death of cold.
O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried, And she laughed like a gypsy queen; To ride in blankets muffled up, I never would be seen.

The tiny penny dolls were churned out between 1850 and 1920, made of hollow porcelain that could float in a child’s bath as a toy. The dolls, ranging from one inch up to 8 inches in height, were inexpensive and plentiful. Today they seem macabre and yet somehow innocent. Continue readingode to a frozen Charlotte

dreaming of paper and pen

In a digital landscape — would she have survived?

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It is a challenge answering email, responding to texts, posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads. With so many hours of so many fingers tapping away at that wireless keyboard, it really make a writer long for something tangible. A pen perhaps? The feel of paper under your hands? You bet!

It is a bit of a seance, your fingers feeling for something deep within the paper, locked inside—or beyond. Hoping that the fingers can channel the exact right word, or phrase for some subtle distinction or nuance of feeling. The pen acts as agent, lifting the ideas up through various invisible layers of fictional being, into full-fledged existence.

How the pen moves—quickly? elegantly? slowly?—makes all the difference, like a fisherman using specific lures to capture different species of fish. How I write can help to manifest what I write.
. . . (to be continued)

what would Virginia Woolf do?: Part Two

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Virginia Woolf used to complain when she ran out of ink, or if she needed a new nib for her pen. Definitely old school. But those of us who write for a living, or out of passion, we each have rituals that not only define our process but which define the outcome as well.

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While I was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary I found myself marking passages (in pencil) in the margins. That became too obscure, so I reached for a pad of orange post-its and began sticking them onto the pages with passages that inspired me, or that shed light on her concerns as a writer. As I read, I always have a small pad of paper nearby— and I make notes of phrases or words that catch my fancy.

This is probably the residue of long years of Continue readingwhat would Virginia Woolf do?: Part Two

crystal palace

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My grand-mother collected S&H Green Stamps and Meissen milkmaids. My mother collects wasps’ nests. I have managed to acquire an unlikely group of spheres: an ornament embedded with mirrors from an import store, two quartz globes from a gem show, a huge lead crystal orb large enough to support an embroidered fez. Smaller spheres surround these large ones: an alabaster sphere from a trip to Tuscany, a glass marble that belonged to my mother in her marble-shooting childhood, a lead fishing weight, a dried datura gourd, perfectly preserved, that came home with me from a trip to the Mojave. These rhyming shapes make a soothing meditation for the eyes and have staked out their territory in my dining room for over a decade.
Inside the Flame