Saturday, August 21, 2010

Zeitgeist Nightmare Problem Hotline

Hello lost and scared liberal arts graduate!
Thank you for calling the ZNP Hotline!
We are here to help you with those overwhelming problems
that you're gonna get through just fine
because everyone has problems like these.
We're so glad you called.

Press 1 if you want to talk about bedbugs:
Press 1 again if you've got bites in groups of 2's or 3's, and you're itchy and flipping out.
Press 2 if you think you found a bedbug in your house and you're flipping out.
Press 3 if you're living in a chemical haze amidst piles of plastic bags, and you're flipping out.

Press 2 if you have digestive problems:
Now, Press 1 if shitting is painful and you don't know what's wrong.
Press 2 if you have been Diagnosed With Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but you still feel like you have no idea what's wrong.
Press 3 if you had a colonoscopy and it didn't reveal anything, and you're dejected because shitting still hurts and you don't know what's wrong.

Press 3 for money and employment problems
1 for underemployment
#if you're running out of money
*if you're freaking out about living off your saving, trust, parents or bar mitzvah money
2 if you can't handle your job
# if you feel overqualified
* if your boss is a flake and/or jerk
0 if you are in the food service industry and you want to get out.

Press 4 if you need to talk about the recent NY times article about 20 somethings.
# if your parents sent you this article
* if you were featured in a photograph in the article

Press 5 if you're overwhelmed with guilt about the pettiness of your own problems, because you know you've got it so good.

Press 6 for struggles about Relationships
1 for break ups
# for lingering feelings about long past break ups
* break ups in the works
2 for difficulties with transcendent, complicated friendships
3 for friendship stress related to cohabitation
0 if that stress has been amplified by bedbugs

An operator will be with you shortly. In lieu of music, here are some things to remember, and to remind your friends:

It's not your fault it hurts to take a shit.
it's the diet we've learned,
the anxiety we shoulder
and the after effects of the great drugs we are given when we are sick.
If you find it in yourself to mention you are in pain, you will quickly find friends and family with similar problems.
Try their advice, but do not become discouraged if relief does not come quickly.
Anxiety is likely part of the problem,- that's true
But this does not mean it's in your head, or your fault
The only way past that is actually to teach yourself not to worry. this takes time.
Eventually, you'll probably figure out how to make it better.
Your coping skills are as strong as you believe they can be.

It is not your fault that your employment does not fill your dreams.
hold your head up, we're in a recession
and yes, we have been lied to all our lives
there is not space for everyone
or even everyone with an education like ours
to have the perfect job.
Maintenance work is work: there is honor in helping with homework and wiping down tables.
Divert the question 'what do you do?' by answering what you care about.
Do not let go of your dreams.
follow them gently,
with as much energy as you can muster,
but no guilt for not having more.
you've been taught a manic ambition,
turning that sustainable does not mean tuning it down.
now is the time you get to define success.
you have already made the decision to be an artist, and nothing will change that
even if you never make a dime off of it, or if no one ever hands you external validation.

the nonprofits are unfortunately not gonna save the world.
you wouldn't be the savior even if one of them hired you for the perfect job.
The same system that's fucking you is fucking everyone,
and things are only going to get more complicated in your life time.
The only work you will ever do is making a life that mutually nourishes you and the world.

Articulation is an act of resistance.
When you can, maintain space for the bigger problems beyond your every day.
If you can afford not to, do not cut off your family tree.
But if you have to do that to thrive, know that you are not alone and you can plant your own.
Any relationship you make impact on is a site of positive change in the world.

Relational struggle is an inevitability and a place to learn.
All this theory you've had the privilege to absorb does make it complicated,
accept that your words are muttled in describing the paradigms for the relationships you seek.
you have too many friends from messy divorces to leap fast and easy for forever, that's true.
yes, you risk navel gazing, you risk delusions of infinite time
Modernity was chosen for you, in all its awkward permutations.
if you do not choose to leave it, you will make it better by your participation.

And we did not brings those indestructible little fuckers in our houses,
they are everywhere and the city does not know what to do with them.
By dealing comprehensively with the problem,
you are helping support new york's effort to get bedbugs under control.
Do your part to de-stigmatize by telling your parents and your friends,
but for fucks sake be cautious about them:
sleep in your bed so they don't burrow deeper in to the walls,
tell everyone you know to buy a mattress encasement,
and have faith that your relationships will survive all of this logistical stress.

You are making the right decisions.
Use your powers of language to help yourself and your community believe this is so.

When one of our associates was babysitting,
she came across a scenario that helps calm her down:
After a hurricane hit Sesame street, Gordon said to Big Bird,
you're right, Big Bird, it's not okay. But it will be okay.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

optimism is in the form

repetitive art tasks means hours upon hours of radio
this petrifying world: interviews about corporate branding and chemicals and television and iraq and government lies.
it is dizzying, hands cutting cardboard, summaries of the scary world piped in through my laptop, bundle of heavy metals and plastic and sheild against loneliness, bundled and hauled and connecting me to friends and music and reading, when so many other objects I count on are otherwise occupied.

Today I am listening to an interview with Emily Henochowicz,
an art student who lost her eye in a protest in Israel.
For the first time all week,
though she is more optimistic than the past few hours of radio garble,
and though there's a lot of personal shit that makes me feel so sad lately,
when she says 'my father came to Israel to help me in the hospital'
I immediately burst in to tear.

Optimism is in the form:
Father, Family, Hospital, Interview, Drawing.
mostly content fails: the litany of all scales of bad things is a constant leeching of hope.
What remains to be beautiful is that we have modes to respond at all,
names for the things we use to keep us going.

This phrase first occurs to me two weeks ago
when I am driving home late at night and listening to a rough cut of a friend's song.
I am distraught about entirely different things than the awful ones he is singing about
he recorded all the parts, some one at a time: 5 minutes of baseline. 3 of guitar.
It sounds lonely.
I feel calmed, but what about any of this could reasonably be described as comforting?
optimism is in the form: car ride, friendship, song.
makes me think about the most moving thing about my big art project, two years ago,
how it's unplanned beauty filled me with energy, when I had been a trodden wreck all year.
and I learned that I was hopeful because I would not be trying to make anything if I were not,
making is hopeful.

sometimes it is so obvious:
I returned the other day from a week at my old summer camp,
try number 2 at making a meaningful environmental program there.
and though my attempt is much less than perfect, again
it is clear what is beautiful that this is happening at all.
that I am contributing to a place that built me up,
trying to make small change in a place where I have the privilege of agency
and that I am said yes to:
that young people are participating, that I am given permission, help, compensation, budget
summer camp. earth day. carnival. workshop: content is imperfect, but these vessels lift us up.
is trying itelf a form? an action, an institution?

most things I struggle to make sense of, I justify with learning. Education as form.
optimism is in the form, and identifying this is a matter of perspective. form is always there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

conditioning air

The air conditioner as the example of the interconnectivity of everything.
Invented to cool and de-humidify factories, they are a product of our love of work, our manufacturing roots.
Transitioned to consumer use use via the movie theater in the 20's, where they enabled the expansion of the movie theater season through the hot hot summer, where they enabled the invention of the summer blockbuster- which we all know is still an excuse to keep cool.
Brought in to domestic spaces in the 50's, air conditioning was a populist modern luxury. They made and continue to make structures that would otherwise be insufferably hot in to pleasant places to be, they enable design that does not consider its location.

Air conditioning, unfortunately, makes the world warmer. I review the second law of thermodynamics: warmth moves to where it is cooler. To resist this phenomena requires a machine that uses energy, which at some point along the line produces heat. Air conditioners resist entropy, the smallest scale of equalizing working to blend the temperatures of the world. It is a mechanic force of making the world more complicated: indoors colder, outdoors warmer, we are vacillating through increasing extremes.

Air conditioners are part of the one big iconic problem: they use massive amounts of electricity-generally unsustainably produced, and also usually require chloroflourocarbons to function, thus radiating this known ozone depleter into their air everywhere.

cold inside today, hotter outside tomorrow. Air conditioners are:
a commonly held privilege that none of us should have to need
a totally unsustainable self-quarantine against danger and discomfort
a self-protection from the reality of heat
a buying yourself time away from the hot future and the hot masses.
a short term solution to a long term problem on a scale beyond what any of us can control.
an urban coping: totally necessary in spaces engineered not by the people who use them, an important public health tool in this hot hot summer.
an unavoidably unsustainable response to our increasing isolated disasters, but unfortunately unsustainability itself is an accelerating long disaster within in which all of these independent events can be situated. We respond to the benign disaster of a heat wave with contribution to a greater one.

Should we suck it up and live with the heat? There's good reasons to say so: heat tolerance is a skill we are loosing, with all our cooled spaces. Cold air allows us year round access to gluttony that appetite-suppressing weather interrupts. Cold air soothes irritated throats, allergies, asthma, and thus masks our terrible air quality, while only contributing to the problem. But air conditioning allows us respite from these health conditions, which none of us volunteered for, and from the poor passive cooling of our urban and suburban spaces. It protects us against these fundamental discomforts, soothes us to the point of ability to continue functioning. Wildly, obscenely overused- but where do we draw the line? and whose job is it to draw?

Friday, May 7, 2010

You Are Not a Gadget and Fears of Facebook

Dogmatism is the first iteration of what, fermented tested and conjealed, is to become a robust belief. Here is a new one of mine:

If you are one of the 400 million people with a facebook account, and you've checked it this week, and you probably have then you're aware of their most recent manditory change. Facebook gave its participants an 'opportunity' to link whatever they wrote on their profiles under the interests, activities, places of work, education, 'fans of' sections to newly created pages for all of these schools, companies, bands, activities, objects, etc. What was not made explicit is that now facebook users can only list things in these sections of their profiles that already have pages. This is to say, Facebook has claimed the right to define within its own cyber universe what things do and do not qualify as interests/activities/schools/places of employment/things to be fans of.

Facebook is always making changes- in fact, the self-definition of what facebook is for is basically all that facebook is about. Up until this lastround, it's always struck me as really, uh, whiny, to problematize what facebook is doing- because the whole set up is a trivial entity, a distraction from what's 'real'....and besides, it only affects people who made the very active decision to be on facebook. Being on facebook is just another thing I am complcit in yet don't particularly believe is a good social change, and so I should not complain.
I am reading You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier, and it is helping me to clarify my beliefs about the internet, with the hope that this will help me make choices I do believe model and reflect more positive change than negative. In this emerging context, I am totally up for whining about Facebook. I find this latest round of changes extremely problematic, both symbolically and pragmatically.
We haven't yet as a society fully interalized that the internet is space, subject to the same tensions and phenomena as physical land. This means that all the same fucked up stuff that goes on in physical space goes on here. The internet is an iteration of two architypal stories of physical space, both part myth and true in this and any other situation.

1) New institutions are the work of idealists, and that shit always gets corrupted:
The internet was invented by a lot of hard working volunteers, in an incredible act of collaboration. These people were visionaries and idealists, just like the inventors of any new interpersonal entity (community, country, economic system, technology) that manages to take hold. These people built the internet on common socialist ideals, in which the de-centralization of media and communications technology would lead to a more even distribution of economic, cultural, and ideological power. Now, corporate globalization and democratic capitalism are raiding this internet- because that's unfortunately the forces that are at play in our world right now. The internet is increasingly controlled by affluent white men and the corporations they run, because our world is in a pattern of colonizing, the internet is new territory, and that's what colonizers do to new territory.

2)Technology is the progression of our ability to be violent. That's not news and not new:
The internet was invented by the army. It is not suprising, that an institution designed for violence was the site of development of something that is now so hugely pervase in endless ways unrelated to war; technology is by definition an offshoot of human aggression. The tools we label 'technology' is an outpouring of competitive, violence, greed, possessiveness, gluttony-the most fundamental things about ourselves that we will never be rid of. The internet is the latest round of the military industrial complex- our passions, creative output, social interactions, and sense of convenience gobbled up by technological progress like any other human need.

Any internet version of a 'real world' activity exists in our collective memory as a supplement, but it isn't one anymore. E-mail is not a secondary version of's more like the other way around. We understand online maps as more real than paper ones- and in a way, they really are, since they are updated, who knows how often, without the It would be ridiculous to say that facebook is replacing friendship, that e-books will do away with paper books, that online shopping is replacing stores, or that internet dating is upending conventional courtship. But these things are profoundly affecting our perception of the institution of most practices in our lives: friendship, shopping, dating, consuming media, corresponding. An engineering change, like turning the 'interests' and 'likes' categories on a facebook profile from text boxes to in to hyperlinks picked from drop-down menus have a real effect in real space. Now the folks at facebook get to decide what an interest is, or what things can be liked.

Seems like a pretty benign change; and of course yes, mostly it is. But it feels symbolically crucial to me. Facebook's decision to make interests in to hyperlinks seems based in the belief that unbias is possible, that of course they will work hard to make every possible interest in to a hyperlink. But there is no such thing as unbias, and so whoever's job it is to make and monitor these pages will bring their subtle bias, attempting to evenhandedly make a format for the self-proclaimed interests of 400 million people all over the planet, from the idiotic to the extremely charged.

Where do these links go? to a newly created 'community page' that is mostly just a jazzed up version of the wikipedia entry for whatever the topic at hand is, plus a feed of posts anyone has made that relate to the topic. (I can't imagine how this would ever be pertinent to anyone) Thus, facebook is saying that espousing an interest in absolutely anything makes you part of a self-generating virtual community around that thing, whose definition of itself is self-generated through participation, according to the grand wikipedia concept of neutrality- which is that, if everyone invested enough in defining something works together to define it, their biases will cancel each other out.

I struggle with articulating what the bias is of internet crowd-generated wisdom. For now, I've been calling it the 'sanitized bias', for it's leaning toward people who are uncritical of technology enough to care to work on wikipedia definitions.

Most importantly, it is easy to forget that crowd-defined content (or what I'm learning is called 'cloud wisdom' in techier worlds) inhibits individual vision on a subject, and obscures whose greater structural vision is getting enacted. Collaboration is great, but ultimately it is the person designing the container for collaboration who has any substantive power. / By giving us all the power to generate content within certain formats, facebook and kind of the internet in general (like this blog!) give an illusion of democratization, while in fact consolidating power in to the hands of the container-makers.

We don't get any say in the containers on the internet. I wonder lately what it must feel like to be an engineer or a programmer, whether you'd really have a sense of how profoundly you are affecting the experience of being alive on the crowded hot flat flattening planet. I do not know anyone who has the power to engineer such social changes, and I do not feel any systems in place that help these people reflect, or that let us have a say in technological change, which is to say social change. These people who get a say- they are from the same aristocracy that has always had control. this is not new.

And so changes like how an 'interest' is defined and displayed on facebook is defined for all of us by the same lineage of affluence, on the same trajectory of imperialism. The internet is just the newest territory to stake claim in how those without the power, who are more and more of us, live their lives. This doesn't feel like a flattening economic world, this feels like new categories of persistent lack being carved out of the top of our economic ladder: creating intellectual poverty within the embarrassment of riches, reserving real agency for a smaller and smaller few, while the rest of us become subservient to our gadgets.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Like a Toaster in a Bath

When I want to work and my son wants to play, he will give very strong 'I am playing' signals in an attempt to pull me back into his game. All people relate to each other in this way, but most teachers are afraid to give 'I am playing' signals to their students. If they would, their work would become a constant pleasure. -Keith Johnstone

This quote is is from Impro, a book about practicing and teaching improvised theater that I have read many times. I am returning to it again now, having just recently returned to improvafter a four year hiatus. My connection to improv is curious (I intentionally do not say funny), because of how much I struggle with humor. My sense of humor comes in and out over months and hours, in a way I don't feel I have much control over, but that obviously relates to what's going on in the rest of my life. And so I have started thinking a lot about my feelings about humor. There's a lot I haven't begun to articulate, but I'm writing to capture what I know right now.

When messy situations used to come up at staff meetings, the principle of the school I was working at would use the phrase with lightness. He is an amazing man: serious, empathetic, articulate, self-aware...even of what an inflated ego he had. I felt a unspoken resonance with him, sharing the kind of self-importance and gravity that allows a person to see their own over-seriousness, but only be able to muster in response to them self a pensive, deliberate reminder that it is possible to approach this situation with lightness.

I say all the time (jokingly I guess) that I have no sense of humor. It's not exactly true, so what do I really mean? At least these things:
When I don't understand jokes, I like when people explain them to me, and then I laugh at the explanation...even I have enough humor in me to recognize how strange that is. I don't enjoy banter. I'd pretty much always prefer people talk about something serious (and equate serious with interesting), so I'm often annoyed when people crack jokes. And most of all, I hate, hate being teased. even gently and lovingly, even when part of me knows its funny. I often feel like I have no natrual capacity for lightness.

I haven't found the impetus to make myself laugh, but the joke is in there somewhere, like a toaster in a bath. -Samuel Lang Budin/Weird Chess
I had this quote stuck in my head the whole time I've been writing this post. Maybe I can rewrite and work it in in a more clever way....but it makes me chuckle about this seriousness in straining for lightness.

But lightness isn't just funny. It also means ease. When some situations presented themselves a few weeks ago that I knew would be internally very hard for me, I lay in bed chanting to myself with lightness. with lightness. with lightness! I'd also say relinquish, Rachel! relinquish! (this is the other word I am infatuated with). But the words felt heavy, commands banging down on my gut, in action as if saying to myself repress repress repress. I didn't sleep very much.

And there is definitely a relationship between lightness and relinquishing. I haven't put my finger on it yet, but what I know so far in words is this: Relinquishing is about experiences of non-mutuality, letting go of what we thought we wanted/needed in situations where we know we're not going to get it. Totally mutuality is impossible, and relinquishing is a necessary skill. Lightness is a coping within that, a way of allowing onesself to relinquish expectation without dissociating. When looking at the big picture isn't working, lightness is allowing yourself to look at the even more infinite no picture, relax and laugh.

This makes me think about my parents, who think I am a comedic genius. There is a lot of commonality between us to play know, since they raised me, but also a lot of non-mutuality in that relationship, inherent in the fact that I'm no longer their kid, living out their vision for me. But the terms of that relationship are relatively set, and so there is a lot of ease in it. As a comfortable coping for non-mutuality, my family is just about the only place where I am consistently experienced as funny.

Teaching is a a messier space than family:a huge site of personal work, challenge, and growth. I read this quote of Johnstone's as saying that he believes teachers don't let themselves play with their students because they are afraid of enjoying their jobs. ...and this makes a lot of sense in the context of my job, lately. My coworkers don't particularly like their jobs, and the attitude is contagious. They talk about the children collectively as best, cute brats, and they are quick to yell at them. There is a lot that is unsolvable and outside of our control about how our after school program works, and it is definitely a frustrating job. But in the abstract, I love my job, so I've been working on ways to actually feel satisfied in the moment.

A lot of my job is supervising large groups of children in un-programmed time: hallways, snack time, recess, dismissal. These all happen in public places, where there are other adults watching how I take care of the kids- which is so stressful. The main mode adults relate to each other in seems to be to greet each other wearily, affirming our position as outside of whatever small ruckus is inevitably taking place within earshot of us. I feel pressure to relate to other teachers this way, and am totally sized up when I am the educator in charge of the group of kids who are making the noise. I try not to buy in to this small exaltation of child docility, but in some basic sense I still assess whether I've done my job well that day by how quietly my students can walk in a straight line down the hall. And so like my coworkers, I get comfortable barking orders. Which doesn't work. Lately, I've decided instead to try not to care if the kids are 'misbehaving'. I say to noisy clusters of first graders, Hey look! some people here are standing in line! It looks like Alex is almost standing in line, except that he's facing the wrong direction, and he's 5 feet from the line, his backpack is still on the table, and his cheez-its are spilled all over the floor! I can't claim this makes them get in line any faster than when I yell, but they don't get ready any more slowly either, and I finish the day feeling like I've been playing, rather than feeling like I've smothered the spirits of children.

Johnstone says, if educators could learn to play with children rather than boss them around, they could love their jobs. And maybe it's even bigger: If we all could more mindfully access where we place our sobriety and lightness, and use lightness where we don't actually need to have control over the situation, we could be liberated from all kinds of energy-suck, we could feel good about what we do, and with the new buoyancy we could have energy to do better in the places in our lives where maintaining or taking control really are important. So for me right now this means, identifying more spaces for lightness.

Enter improv. After a four year hiatus, some friends from an old troupe of mine started up rehearsing again...and it's just honestly amazing. This activity that was so petrifying and crucial to me when I started in high school. Cathartic, if not nearly as scary as it was when I was 14, I ask myself as i re-enter: why is this important and energizing to me? On the surface improv is about things I say I'm not interested in: being funny, and making stuff up (someday I'll write here about fictionality...).

I fall back in to the same approach I had cultivated, which is to take improv seriously. I do not attempt in the least bit to be funny, stumbling on it like an accident, believing that any funny you work for is basically just dumb. I increasingly find myself playing out my politics- the other week I showed up as a protesting long time resident in a sequence about a fancy new bar in brooklyn. I like to play characters who clarify plots as they emerge, give serious feedback after practice, and I am visibly pissed when my troupe mates seem unfocused... for example, choosing to play out an extensive, illogical sequence about jacking off.

In past improv troupes, this seriousness has made me feel outside of the main action of the group, and I know in other parts of my life my insistence on taking myself so seriously is a way I make myself feel distant. In this new improv group, I often feel self-conscious about acting this way, and I sense that at least one other troupe member is really not pleased with the way I am/am choosing to be.

Allowing space to unapologetically embrace what I'm just naturally prone to be like, I also find myself thinking about how else I could behave in improv, at work, and elsewhere. What if I didn't feel that kind of detached, would it be possible? I know this gravity is what made me start thinking of myself as an educator, and yet in my work as a teacher find myself feeling I'd be better if I weren't quite so....teacherly. I rarely really know how to play with my students. I am aware this places me outside of my student's world: the seriousness with which I orchestrate the logistics of their afternoon is so far off base from the priorities in their world, a world that is mostly about fun. And all people were kids- the world of self-generated play is someplace we all crave. I think about how I relished seriousness as a child, how I felt alienated from most of my peers, even then, because of how playful they preferred to be, and I wonder lots about how we culturally define the job of Teacher that made me feel so strongly, for as long as I can remember, that this serious disposition made me especially qualified to shape young people. I do feel that there is a lot in the world that needs to be approached with more gravity...but that in handling the real discomfort that exists in almost any situation that involved people, didactic seriousness can only get you so far.

And I feel a lot of gratitude too: for the fact that improv was a big part of my education, and now is something I can make for myself to continue learning. For this chosen livelihood that can function as the site at which to face my heavy self hood, for the joint opportunities to expand my relationship to lightness.

expand my relationship to lightness. Seriously, Rachel, is there a heavier way to possibly say that? What about if you said.... lighten up?

Friday, March 26, 2010

right now abstract

recent relevant language:

awful/unhinged, unhinged
energetic relinquish
from repression to relinquish.
gentle inner voice
access to nurturing work.
with lightness,
aesthetic space, aesthetic distance
ravenous appetite for closeness
the constant revelatory trauma that other people are not ourselves
transgression, competition// transcedence, community
everyone is a jerk.
kindness prevails
reckoning with convention
authentic following of relations
that exact affirmation
success is not not feeling deeply
the restorative powers of community
affirmation for safety(danger)//affirmation for building power
what does success look like?
the contemporary neutral everything is unfortunately not soil but plastic.
presence, body, words
when you put your mind to improvement, you are exactly not
finding the game, saying yes
How much compromise?
the bravery to leave// the openness to yeild.
getting to yes

Monday, March 22, 2010

All of the ephemera I've gathered thus far, organized in labeled files

Art Readings, Bard, Car, Cash, Compost, Education Readings, Envelope Skins, Family, Finances, Flash Monster, Flow Charts, Garden, Gift Certificates, Hand Made Paper, Health, Health Insurance, Housing, Job Stuff, Justice Readings, Language/Communication Readings, Legal Documents, Music, My Drawings, My Writing, Nice Letters, Other People's Drawings, Other People's Charts, Paint Chips, Park Slope Food Coop, Photos, Riverdale, Senior Project, Surrealist Training Circus, Taxes, Two Books For One Buck.

And then twice that much mass in different kinds of blank paper.