John Cage & The PedEgg

I heard something recently that I still can’t believe I heard. A lot of people are very upset about their feet, and I have proof. I was in Walgreens with my son, I think we were buying diapers. We were walking through the aisle that has all the AS SEEN ON TV stuff in it. This section is one of the uglier things I have ever seen. There is a lot of text-heavy bubble packaging and flapping coupon dispensers. It’s messy. There were two friendly ladies with clipboards standing in front of the display and poking at a product called PedEgg. I was sort of watching them wondering who they worked for since they seemed less rushed than regular Walgreens employees and one of the ladies said, “Can you believe this is the best selling item in Walgreens?” “Really?” I said, “Just in the infomercial section or in the whole store?” “The whole store!” The lady said, and she laughed and scribbled something on her clipboard. The PedEgg is a little cheese grater for the bottom of your feet. This object is optional, it’s not toothpaste or hydrogen peroxide, or one of the more useful things you can get at a drug store. Instead, it’s what we Walgreens customers are most likely to have in common. Horror of feet. People are buying it though, all together. So this information is a little bit upsetting, but it’s something that I’ve been able to live with. Until last night, I started thinking about it again.

I was reading last week’s New Yorker. Alex Ross has a piece on the life of John Cage, apropos of a new biography coming out. Ross explains that the thing that finally got Cage out of “elegant” poverty in the late 50′s was not music but wild mushrooms. This was well after his reputation as an artist was established. He started making money hunting mushrooms for the Four Seasons and other restaurants, but he really hit the jackpot when he was was invited on an Italian game show and asked a lot of questions about mushrooms. He won eight thousand dollars.

I don’t know why, but this little culture story represents some kind of final straw for me. We hear a lot about the fairness or unfairness of “the market”. I’ve been staying up late discussing the “value” of an MFA with a friend who has just embarked on getting one. I even caught myself discussing with my husband the “value” of having a lot of facetime with our son, since I don’t have a full-time job. It makes us unhappy to put a sticker price on the things we think are really important, and it should – but sometimes we sort of have to do it anyway. However, I have a new idea. If the career of a major composer was supported by game show money and mushroom hunting, and also adult humans buy more PedEggs than any other single product when they visit a Walgreens store, the market might be reasonably viewed as absurd. I like this much better. Up is down, down is up. Of course what is important doesn’t sell! Who cares! Of course, I care a lot, since I have a kid to feed – but I am hoping that I can ride the cheery wave of “THE MARKET IS ABSURD” for a little bit longer. It helps.

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I Like Tavi

I’ve been officially trying for years not to care about Fashion because it is expensive and involves starving girls. But Tavi Gevinson, Style Rookie has just ended all of my objections with her good writing and her hungry little eyes. I read The New Yorker profile and was then sort of horrified to find myself on her blog looking up all her back posts. She’s a 14 year old from a house with grey siding near Chicago with non-fancy parents who somehow lives and breathes Comme des Garçons.

Unwelcome voices have been singing in my head all week, sort of like this: “This kid is safe from consumerism within an insanely consumerist context.” Is that really possible? “Within a space of pure desire, the yuckiness of the marketplace falls away.” Wait a minute, that’s ridiculous! Am I really thinking this stuff? Yep.

I’m going to requote Tavi’s 100th blog post, as I read it in The New Yorker:

“In my opinion, the most interesting fashion is the Anti-Fashion. No rules, no restrictions, no normalcy, no pleasing anyone…I might be less attracted to the entire ‘chic’ deal because, as a younger person, I do gravitate more towards tackier clothes. That being said, I’m twelve! I have no one to impress and I’m not concerned about wearing something flattering to my body. I will dress as ugly and as crazy as I want as long as I’m still young enough to get away with it. Suckerssss.”

I know that it’s terrible what has happened to art in our culture, how despite best efforts of several generations of artists, everything an artist makes or does or thinks about is still for sale, so of course the gallery system is corrupt, MFAs are a racket, and every trustee of a supposedly cool museum is just there propping up the value of their art collection. But I don’t want to think about that stuff. I want to think about beautiful, insane paintings and dinosaur boots. I might be one more Style Rookie post away from draining the last drop of Quaker/Protestant aesthetic guilt out of my veins. Then I’m going to go make absolutely whatever kind of painting I want.

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Blogging, Cronicas-style

Hi everybody. I have been reading Selected Cronicas by Clarice Lispector, translated by Giovanni Pontiero. These were Sunday columns that this super-genius Brazilian novelist produced for Rio de Janeiro’s major newspaper, Jornal do Brasil, from 1967 to 1973. When you read these you will not believe they appeared in a regular newspaper.

They could also be really instructive for writers who are coming up and finding their voices as bloggers. The Cronicas have all the casual style of a blog but can then go ahead and get quite complicated and obscure. You can, as Lispector does, variously muse about the little girl from next door who comes over and murders her kids’ pet Easter chick in the kitchen or toss off a one liner like “A Challenge for Psychoanalysts — I dreamed that a fish was taking its clothes off and remained naked.”

In another column she basically asks “Hey guys, do you know what’s really interesting about Thoreau?” Where would you see that in today’s media landscape? (I never really liked Thoreau, and I found her angle persuasive.)

Bloggers, let’s use Clarice Lispector and her country’s weird newspaper genre as a call to arms. This is a short format, but it can hold anything we want. Narrow branding is so unappealing. We can be catty, familiar, obtuse, preachy, and write tiny little poems — and we can blame a magnificent woman who didn’t mind a little format surfing.

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F****** Awesome Amish Quilts

What I must say first about the show “Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown” at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is GO TWICE. There are quilts from the Amish communities of Lancaster, Pa., and Holmes County, Ohio. Most were made before 1940. A couple pieces are completely insane. Old Maid’s Puzzle (maker unknown) c.1930 from Holmes County, Ohio has a black circle in the center like a dilated pupil. The pattern uses small blocks bisected by curves to send a ripple out from that center point that looks like a diagram of radiation spreading out from a toxic event. Or, to read into the name of the pattern – a diagram of the fear of single girls. As with any established pattern, it’s the particular rotten sherbet palette of this piece that makes it scary. Also see a five-star version of Tumbling Blocks with a black and cornflower blue border, where the blocks are lit with lavender light coming from two directions at once. It makes you want a stabilizing drink, now. Clean living does weird things to people. Check it out.

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Aurelia’s Oratorio: Light, Sad, Circus

Last night I saw Aurelia’s Oratorio at Berkeley Repertory Theater. This is one of those rare things that is both light and heartbreaking. Victoria ThierrĂ©e Chaplin, the creator of the show and the mother of its star, is Charlie Chaplin’s daughter. Uncle Dan actually hooted “Pure Chaplin!!” in the middle of one piece where two dancers + pair of pants = three dancers. It’s a dance vignette collection with puppets, spare props and some aerial gymnastics (drapes with hidden ladders, gymnastic rings hidden inside hanging silk shirts). There are low-key special effects, mostly having to do with black and white cloth knocking out or obscuring something tipped this way or that under the light. The all-vintage aesthetic is judiciously defanged by using a little electronic music here and there; in an old alarm clock bell chorus there is one pesty modern alarm clock. Victoria T. Chaplin and her husband started the cirque nouveau movement which people credit as the inspiration for Cirque du Soleil. This is not as fancy as Cirque de Soleil. It has a sneakier and more modest heart. Marcus just about spoiled it by asking in the parking garage, “How come every piece of French whimsy MUST include tango music? They can’t get enough of it.” Maybe somebody can explain that.

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