Sunday, September 30, 2012

still-sound 110. Moon rocks

I wanted to burn a special incense yesterday to celebrate the Harvest Moon.  I have a mini sampler set of Shoyeido's premium sticks and have been saving two of the very finest for well over a year.  Earlier this week I took the plunge and burnt the legendary Sho-kaku, known to scent-people as the best incense in the world.  Or at least the most expensive.  I will write about that another time.  But in releasing Sho-kaku from its plastic holder, the other fancy stick, Go-un, fell out and broke into five pieces.  Yesterday I took the two largest fragments of Go-un and burnt them at the same time, filling my living room with spicy, sweet kyara smoke.

Last night I discovered that I could actually view the moon from my terrace.  I usually don't venture out there so late and end up missing that part of the lunar trajectory.  The air was full with the sound of cicadas and sprinklers from the gardens at the entrance of Dodger's Stadium.  The light was distinctively blue in that moon way. 

My friend Laura once told me that crystals can be cleansed and energized by bathing them in the light of the full moon.  I've been wanting to do this because it sounds like a nice idea and because I usually like Laura's opinions and find that it pays off to follow her instructions.  I fetched stones from my dark apartment and lined them up on the terrace like soldiers.  This morning I found them waiting for me in the glaring sunlight.  Cleansed and reenergized.

Friday, September 28, 2012

still-sound 109. Moomin

Look what I found while clearing out my little storage unit.  A moomin!  And he's fishing.

In college, my friend Anna had moomin mugs.  She grew up in Andover.  Her family was Finnish.  She spent the summer before our senior year in Helsinki.  I was a little jealous.  Helsinki seemed so much more magical than Providence, Rhode Island.  We wrote letters to each other.  Following Anna's example, I wrote Lentoposti on the envelopes to help the Finnish mail carriers.  It's still the only word I know in Finnish.  It means Airmail.  But then, you knew that.

A few years ago I bought a couple of moomin mugs.  I must have bought something else that was strawberry flavored because I think of strawberries whenever I see these fantastic creatures. 

Here is another moomin object that I also have in my possession.

I don't remember actually buying this book.  I just seemed to own it one day.  The characters look so crazy.  Especially the two red-headed creatures opening the circular door.  Once a Scandinavian friend translated the entire book for me so that I would know the story, which is quite kooky and funny.  I seem to have since forgotten though.

Monday, September 24, 2012

still-sound 108. Iceblink luck

When I lived in Paris for a fine art residency, I travelled back to London occasionally to visit friends and sort out the little details that failed to get noticed before my abrupt exodus from the UK.  On one of these trips I accompanied my best friend Kirsten to the club night she helped organize at the Vauxhall Tavern.  It was called What We Like.  Her girlfriend Lesley Lush dj-ed.  So did her ex-girlfriend, Max.

The first few trips back to a place that used to be home feel poignant.  Eventually your connection and trace disappear and it feels like someone else's home.  During the What We Like-days, London was still home but I was a visitor.  This felt exciting. 

Lesley and Max had me on the dancefloor most of the night.  They are both former goths and instinctively chose music with a dark, romantic soul.  I find this music easy to dance to.  In between Siouxsie and Crystal Castles, poppier Le Tigre and LCD tracks edged their way in.  Late into the night, after a particularly dark litany of songs, the opening notes of Cocteau Twins' Iceblink Luck pierced the Vauxhall Tavern.  I had never heard a Cocteau Twins track in a club before.  The roof was removed and the building instantaneously filled with an unyielding radiant light.  The musical choice was startling to most and even more surprising was the realization that everyone seemed to know the words.  Anyone familiar with the Cocteaus' distinctive, ethereal glossolalia would recognize that this was unusual and amazing.  We all, literally, spoke the same secret language.

This morning on my drive to work, the shimmering introduction of Iceblink Luck filled my car unexpectedly.  A surprising choice from KCRW.  It felt most certainly like a blessing and a reassurance.  My lips mouthed the words of the entire song.

Thank you for mending me babies....

Friday, September 21, 2012

still-sound 107. Swimming pool

There is still a little water in my ears.  I like to swim on Friday evenings because my local pool in Echo Park designates that slot as adults only.  I try to avoid swimming when there are many kids.  Their movements are erratic.  I've often found my swim interrupted mid-lap by children floating across the lane.  Like debris. 

Tonight at lap 40 or so, I heard music when my head came up for air.  A water aerobics class was being conducted at the far corner of the pool.  When I returned underwater I heard nothing except the muted ears-underwater sound.  I had to end my swim prematurely by ten laps because a trio of women entered my lane and proceeded to waterjog.  They jogged across my path in slow motion.  Quite like debris.

In the locker room a guy was walking around wearing black boxer shorts with comic book letters stating across his back side, "The women love me".  Next to the red, bubbly lettering stood Snoopy with his head turned up to receive adoration.  I love Snoopy.

David Hockney, Green Pool with Diving Board and Shadow, 1978

I share David Hockney's love of swimming pools.  They offer an exhilarating freedom.  Like Los Angeles itself.  Rob is moving into a West Hollywood apartment with a swimming pool in the central courtyard.  The scene matches a foreigner's expectation of what LA-living must be like.  I hope that after dark, a shape-shifting phosphorescence enters his living room through the wall of plate glass windows and illuminates his Los Angeles nights. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

still-sound 106. Dark

When I drove home from work today it was already dark.  It's a strange feeling.  The end of summer feels like a loss.  Every year I feel surprised by the onset of autumn.  One would think that I'd be used to this change of light and season by now -- I've experienced it forty times. Yet it always takes me by surprise. 

I wonder if this cat who roams my neighborhood likes the dark or wishes for the sun to warm his belly, so that he can nap.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

still-sound 105. Shino

I love a nice bit of shino.  Who doesn't?  This style of glaze originated in the Mino and Seto areas of 16th Century Japan.  The surface tends to be milky white with random markings caused by accumulations of gray carbon.  The tea cup pictured above comes from a book I borrowed from Evan, my ceramics teacher.  I asked if he stole it from the Rochester Institue of Technology Art Library, like the last book I borrowed from him.  He had not.  He bought it in Shino country when he took a long tour through Japan.  Here is the cover of the legally-purchased book:

When I use shino glaze I apply it to the bisqueware in a very thin layer.  The fired surface is translucent like polished Carrera marble.  The first time I used it, the coat of glaze was particularly thick.  I had a habit of dipping objects too slowly.  When the bowl came out of the kiln I thought something had gone horribly wrong.  It appeared curdled like spoiled milk.  I now know that 'crawling patterns' are characteristic, in fact, desirable in shino glazing.  Like in these beautiful old bowls I recently saw at the Mingei Museum in San Diego.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

still-sound 104. George Nakashima

While in San Diego over Labor Day weekend, I visited the Mingei Museum.  I thought it would be a good way to spend the afternoon with my mom.  It was air conditioned.  I had no idea the museum would have a number of George Nakashima pieces in its permanent collection.  I love George Nakashima.  His studio was only a stone's throw from my childhood home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  I passed it many times as a teenager, hanging out in New Hope on weekends, but it was never open to the public.  

The stools pictured above were included in an exhibition called True Blue.  They stood in a corner of the museum temporarily dedicated to indigo.

This chest was tucked away in another corner of the upstairs gallery.  What I love best about Nakashima's work is that it is simple and reveals the perfect beauty of the wood itself.  Look at the handle and the deep, rosy color of the panel:

I mean, come on!  

This bench, pictured below, appeared on the ground floor near the main stairwell. There was a massive Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture floating above it, near the ceiling.  The golden figure was adorned with strips of neon light and cast crazy shadows.  

When I spotted the bench, I walked over to snap a picture.  A woman was sitting on it,  having a conversation on her phone.  I didn't really want her to be in the picture.  I stood very close to her as she chatted away.  She eventually got up and left.

Friday, September 7, 2012

still-sound 103. What I saw in Coronado

Last week I spent a few days in Coronado, a little island just over the bridge from San Diego.  My mom came out from Arizona to meet me there.  In the early evening she would sit in front of the tv, resting from our day's outing.  I would head over to the beach, only a couple of blocks away, to walk on the sand. 

I like the way the beach sounds.  Muffled.  The waves sound distant although they are not.  When I stood at the very edge of the ocean and kept my balance as the peripheral vestiges of the Pacific gathered around my feet, I looked at the color of the water and could vividly imagine its saltiness.  The taste filled my mouth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

still-sound 102. Transition (part 2)

A gift economy is based on the principle of giving when you can give and receiving when you need.  It's not bartering.  It's not tit-for-tat.  It's a flow of resources based on the trust that surplus and deficit continually level out and that social norms and customs will govern the exchange.  In The Gift (1979), Lewis Hyde explores the history of gift economies, focusing mostly on indigenous cultures.  This structure of exchange seems to best suit communities that place a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships: families, friends and neighbors.  This is rarer in a globalized, technical world where, despite the ease in communicating and sharing - as members in a global society, we feel more isolated and protective than ever.  Lewis Hyde finds traces of the gift economy in the arts and sciences where ideas and work are offered without a guarantee of monetary compensation for the sake of a free flow of information.

Charles Eisenstein makes reference to Lewis Hyde's work.  He refers to gift economies in his own ideas vis a vis money.  He writes about the sacred and his impulses as a human being to protect what he considers sacred. He finds that these impulses constantly get curtailed by the flow of money in our society -- a flow that eventually promotes the very things he considers unsacred like the destruction of our biosphere and the gross inequities in the division of wealth. 

In a fascinating conversation with Rob Hopkins, Eisenstein elaborates the major themes of his book, Sacred Economics.  You can read the transcription here:

As I seek more information about the Transition Network, even attending a workshop here in Los Angeles, I step back and worry about the public's perception of the movement.  I would hate for Transition to be dismissed as a hippy thing.  This association would keep keep many from taking Transition seriously.  I have no problems with hippies.  I have hippy tendencies myself, but I don't identify as one.  I find hippy culture homogenous and isolating.  You have to identify as a hippy to belong.  In actuality, I consider Transition as resolutely malleable and embracing.  One of its great strengths is its promotion of heterogeneity. 

A major reason why I would personally support a transition town rather than an intentional community is because I desire extreme examples of ingenuity.  I mean, local businesses and local food production, yes! Social justice and community involvement, yes!  But (not-so-great) hand-made crafts and (not-so-interesting) music played on acoustic guitars?  Hmmmm. 

I wondered how excellence factors into the Transition Town.  As an artist I try to make something that is beyond expectation.  Something that can only be made after enormous dedication and a modicum of skill.  I rarely succeed in this, but it's what I look for, not just in art but in many aspects of my life.  I look to Europe and Asia where certain towns or regions become synonomous with particular crafts or food products - where artisans are able to make things that seem beyond the capabilities of human hands. 

Although the following discussion between Hopkins and Eisenstein didn't directly address my concern, I did find this bit interesting:

Rob Hopkins: I asked if people had any questions, and one of the questions I was asked to bring was “in the gift economy, how do I get a piano?”, i.e. something that needs to be made by skilled people, something that’s using resources, and something on which people can express so beautifully and creatively.  Where do the pianos come from?

Charles Eisenstein: Sure, pianos, computers, all kinds of things. That’s just part of the misunderstanding, people think that I’m talking about a world without money. Maybe some day money will have evolved to a point where we don’t even recognise it as money. But basically I think that there has to be a way to co-ordinate human labour over vast social distances. Just like in a body how if a cell needs something it puts out a signalling molecule, and that molecule attracts the resources that it needs.

So I think in the social body, money is one of the signalling molecules that says – pianos are needed. And the signal is that people are willing to pay for pianos, so pianos are needed. So if I’m a craftsman, and I’m wondering whether to make a piano, or I’m an entrepreneur and I want to do something, I want to make something – shall I make pianos or shall I make pogo-sticks? Maybe there’s more money in the pianos. That’s maybe a signal from society that that’s maybe what we want. In a way money already works like that, that’s the theory of it.

The problem is that it’s become divorced from things that people actually want and need. I explained how that happened in the book with the way money’s created as debt, so it’s not about eliminating money, it’s about transforming its nature, for example, no longer creating it as debt

I was also interested in reading more about Eisenstein's views on the Sacred.  This is what he says...

Charles Eisenstein:  When I speak about it (the Sacred) I try to invoke it through pointing out some of the experiences that give me a sense of the sacred and that give other people a sense of the sacred. I think most people have experienced those moments. It could be a moment in nature or with a child, witnessing a birth or witnessing a death with a dying loved one, those special moments…or maybe even listening to a band play and there’s that moment of connection, where the band is really singing to you somehow, and not just putting on a performance. I think during these experiences when your real needs are being met, shopping is the farthest thing from your mind.

It seems absurd, and wouldn’t you like more of that? Or those moments of authentic intimate communication with somebody. So I’ll invoke that and say something in your heart knows that this is what life is supposed to be about.


Rock on Charles!  Rock on Rob! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

still-sound 101. Transition (part 1)

I just read the transcription of an interesting conversation between Rob Hopkins and Charles Eisenstein.

I've been following Rob Hopkins for a number of years now.  He's one of the main voices of the Transition Movement.  The movement seeks to address the way we live and to shift our societies into ones that are resilient and ultimately independent of cheap oil.  Peak Oil, the movement's impetus, is the notion that the demand for oil will only increase in the future as supplies remain level or decline (which may already be the case).  The rise of controversial methods like fracking already suggests that oil is not as readily available as in the past.

It's a simple idea but no small task.  Virtually every aspect of our daily lives is pulsing with a blood supply of cheap oil.  Transport of food, food production, travel and the endless consumption of disposable tat.  Every fiber of our economy and politics is deeply connected with the oil supply.  No wonder endless wars are fought. 

Transition towns are popping up all over the world.  They seek to strengthen local businesses and food production.  In some instances they introduce local currencies to keep the exchange of money within the community.  For example, in Totnes, Devon you can pay for your pints at the pub with Totnes pounds.  The big things, like mortgages are still sold in Sterling.  In addition to strengthening the local economy, these efforts help to foster a sense of community and personal accountability.

Of course it's not just about the economy and politics.  Our very identities are influenced by the consumer-oriented dream machines; advertising and entertainment, all dependent on the supply of oil.  It's a cultural transition as much as anything else.

When you read details of these town 'in transition' they don't come across as particularly radical.  They're not hippy communes.  They are ordinary places where people live and work.  The changes are small and incremental; appearing in business, personal choices and local government.  The transition towns share an underlying goal of shifting everyday life towards sustainability and equality. 

What I like most about the transition movement is that it's practical and gentle. Rob Hopkins is soft-spoken and comes across as thoughtful and, well, ordinary.  The pervading attitude of Transition can be defined as 'let's get on with it'.  In our culture of haters, it's easy to criticize ideas that posit solutions whether major or minor.  Poking holes without offering an alternative solution leads to paralysis, yet is so frustratingly commonplace.  Transition towns do not offer a meta-solution to all of the world's ails and injustices but they are a practical model.  There will have to be many practical, functioning models in place to make a substantial difference.*  What's important though, is that we simply 'get on with it' and start living the life we think is the right one to live.

Here in the US, the media is saturated with campaign rhetoric.  Personas are crafted to exude determination and dominance.  We are supposed to vote for a Fixer - a strong-handed, no bullshit leader.  Inconceivable amounts of money fuel this smoke and mirrors.  The reality though, is that nothing gets fixed.  Obama, Romney and Congress will change nothing.  Ordinary people with an unwavering determination to make their communities better, will make the change.   

I read to be kept current with the activities of transition towns around the world.

I will talk about the actual interview between Rob Hopkins and Charles Eisenstein in the next post.

* In fact, it's hard for me to imagine Los Angeles going into transition.  It's a city that was built around cars and cheap oil.  The city would essentially have to redefine itself from the ground up.  Most European towns developed before the advent of the automobile and the addiction to oil.  They were already sustainable and their planning reflects this (eg. town hall, a central commerce area, market halls, proximity to farmland).  Los Angeles and much of America that quickly developed into the wide open continent and came into their own after the Industrial Revolution have their own unique set of challenges.