Carolina stories: On page, stage and whiteboardPosted: December 6, 2014 Filed under: Digital life, Theater | Tags: Snow Queen, Triad Stage 2 Comments
I spent Thanksgiving weekend in North Carolina and loved being able to relax and visit with friends and relatives. My older son has lived there for 25 years so I’ve visited dozens of times. We got to meet the new baby cousin in the family; he slept through all the excitement. And I spent time with my two darling and precocious grandsons.
Birthdays and storytelling
The 2-year-old loves to read stories, to which he adds his own interpretations as I’m reading to him. One of our outings was to a birthday party for one of his friends from “school” (day-care). Mom and the two boys and I went to The Little Gym where kid birthday parties are staged. An hour of jumping, bouncing and games, supervised by Mr. DJ and Miss Bethany, then time for cake and birthday treats. If you haven’t been involved with small ones lately, you would be amazed at the birthday party industry that has built up. I’ve been to several play-party venues like this for kid birthday parties, including those for the two grandsons. Birthday parties aren’t held at home any more.
The almost-7-year-old likes to build with Legos and write stories. He has a future as an entrepreneur, I believe. He frequently writes stories, by hand and with colored illustrations. He begged me to “publish” his stories and wanted me to take a photo of a magazine cover so he could put it on his book. I explained copyright infringement. We discussed the nature of e-books and the dilemma of print vs. online. I told him he needs a website, after he asked me how he would get people to buy his book. I can’t wait to see what we’ll discuss next time I see him.
Snow Queen at Triad Stage
The grownups went to the theater one night to see Snow Queen, based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, at Triad Stage in Greensboro. The play, developed for that theater in 2013, was well done with an original folk music score and script. Costuming of the Snow Queen and other fairy tale characters was beautiful and the staging, with large animal puppets, was very creative. This is a professional theater company and most of the actors are Equity. The show featured live musicians on acoustic string instruments. The play is set in Appalachia, which explains the accents of the actors.
Here’s a sneak peek at the play with comments from writer/director Preston Lane. If you’re in the Triad region (Greensboro/Winston Salem/High Point) before December 22, you have a chance to see this production.
Also in performance . . . .
My other treat was watching my son teach a university economics class in time-series analysis—used in statistics and forecasting. (It was the day of my departure and I tagged along with him.) There were six graduate students in the class, so I sat in the last row of the small classroom and tried to be inconspicuous. Of course, my son wasn’t going to let that happen. He introduced me to the class and occasionally asked my opinion.
The class was discussing things like ACF (autocorrelation function) and the ARIMA methodology (autoregressive integrated moving average) and my son’s white board formulas included characters that aren’t on my keyboard. This is an image of a time series showing random data points. It’s cool-looking and I like the colors.
With the help of Wikipedia, I followed along superficially and I did perk up when he got to the chi-squared test. I remembered that from my brush with communications research as a grad student. The chi-squared (X²) test is used to determine whether there’s a significant difference between the expected and observed frequencies in categories.
The class also had two interesting stats. Of the six students, three were left handed. And of the eight people in the room, four were left handed, including me, of course. Statistically unlikely since ~10 percent of the population is left handed. And all six students were male, also defying the stats, since 50 percent of the population is female. That may be a comment on the fact that fewer women are involved in STEM courses.
It’s a sad fact that this results in a “yawning imbalance . . . even though they make up 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce study.” Those STEM jobs typically offer higher salaries and better career prospects.
I realize the irony of this comment coming from me. I took only the required STEM courses in college and I spent my career in decidedly non-STEM jobs. I’ve had a successful and happy life and I wouldn’t have changed it. But I would advise young women to consider all their career options and not let themselves be pushed into non-STEM courses and careers.
Anyway, it was fun to watch my son teach and then we had a late lunch. Then to the airport and home.
PTI (the Piedmont-Triad International Airport) has free wifi, as do many other airports. Why don’t O’Hare and Midway have free wifi? OK, they do have those rotating toilet seat covers that make you think you’re sitting on a clean surface. But no free wifi? It’s a tossup as to which is more important.
The joy of talking: Conversations short and longPosted: May 10, 2014 Filed under: Digital life, Movies | Tags: CFLX312 meetup, Gene Siskel Film Center, WordPress meetups 3 Comments
I was thinking the other day how much I enjoy the various meetups and discussion groups I belong to. Most weeks I have one or two get-togethers with friends and acquaintances who share some of my diverse interests. It’s a real joy of city life.
The news media confirm that more and more of us are getting tangled up in our technology. We’re not having as much human interaction as we used to—or as much as we should have for our mental and emotional health.
Serious highway accidents are caused by texting while driving, pedestrian tumbles are caused by texting while walking. Actually, while I’m a major tech geek, I don’t understand either of those phenomena. When I’m sedentary or at least stationary, I’ll use whatever device I have in hand for most any purpose. Reading, listening, talking, texting, getting directions, taking photos, finding a coffee shop. When I’m walking (or driving), I want to know that I’m not going to crash or tumble. In motion, I’m paying attention to where I’m going. (This is only partly because, with age, you’re more likely to fall, and some of your senses are in decline. Or so I’m told.)
Casual chat. I read a New York Times article recently in which social scientists studied the value of casual conversations. A chat with the coffee barista, the store cashier, the pharmacist, the doorman, the person sitting next to you on the bus. These interactions make us more cheerful, the social scientists found, and may ease the anomie of living in a modern metropolis.
I enjoy those interactions. And I especially enjoy long conversations on interesting and sometimes provocative topics—with friends, relatives, members of my discussion groups. Right now, I belong to four discussion groups. I really value them as ways to expand my circle of friends and acquaintances, and to keep my brain in constant activity, mulling over new ideas and churning out concepts for discussion and writing.
Two of my groups are fairly traditional discussion groups—one political, one focused on books. They were formed by friends inviting friends inviting friends. Each meeting is at someone’s home and focuses on one topic.
We discuss one book, either fiction or nonfiction, at each meeting, agreed on by members in advance. It’s very rare that a member doesn’t finish a book. Everyone really takes the reading seriously. (There was one occasion when the book choice—Henry James’ The Ambassadors—brought about a near-unanimous revolt. We changed books midstream.) Sometimes we have a professional moderator but usually one of our members leads the discussion. And if we spend a little time chatting about family, work and travel, that tends to knit the group more firmly together.
The political/policy group discusses one topic, usually chosen from articles in The Nation, a political magazine we all value. Yes, we too often agree on everything but we really do try to bring in topics and members that will generate disagreement.
Meetups are a newer kind of group. They bridge the technological and the personal relationship world by bringing together total strangers who have common interests for in-person meetings.
I belong to an excellent film meetup. It has hundreds of members, but the meetups at a local tea shop, bar or cinema are rarely more than 12 or 15 people. The cast shifts for each meetup, but there’s a core group of about 30. Very diverse group. All ages, races, genders, film interests, areas of expertise. I have never had such good discussions at which I also learned so much about a topic. This group has an excellent and creative organizer, which is the basis for its success.
Our regular film discussions are planned to discuss one or two (related) films that we all see in advance. Other events are held to view a film together and then discuss it afterwards. In the last week, I hosted two such meetups at the Gene Siskel Film Center. We saw Orson Welles’ Othello and a few nights later, a different group joined me for the new Sam Mendes/Kevin Spacey documentary about their Richard III production—NOW in the Wings on a World Stage. After both films, we stayed at the Siskel Center or found a cafe nearby to talk about the films. Both discussions lasted more than an hour.
I also belong to a couple of WordPress meetups, which focus on WordPress usage questions and practices. (WordPress is the tech platform on which this blog is built; it’s a user-friendly and widely used platform.) I always meet new people and get answers to my questions and new ideas at these meetups. You can probably find a meetup for virtually any techy project you’re working on.
A sidebar on Meetups
Meetups run on a social networking portal that facilitates offline, in-person local meetings. Meetup was founded after the 2001 attack showed the founders how the internet could help connect people in a crisis. Today, Meetup says it has almost 16 million members in 196 countries. Meetup organizers pay a small fee each month to meeetup.com and members are usually asked to chip in.
If you want to try out Meetup, go to meetup.com and put in your zip code. Check the topics you’re interested in and you’ll be offered a menu of meetups in your categories. You create an account to join and then you’ll receive email announcements about coming meetups on your topics.
Yes, some meetups are lame and never do much while others are vibrant and active. If you find one of the former, just try out another. You’ll meet new people and learn new things. And most important, you’ll find you are creating new human interactions (i.e., friendships) in this complex and tendentious technological age.
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Reviewing Spike Jonze’s Her: Samantha vs GalateaPosted: January 7, 2014 Filed under: Digital life, Movies | Tags: CFLX312 meetup, Galatea 2.2, Her, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Powers, Scarlett Johansson, Spike Jonze 4 Comments
Spike Jonze’s new film Her is a charming, tender love story with a soulful 21st century edge. I loved the film, but the story was familiar. In Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a writer who falls in love with a computer operating system. In 1995, Richard Powers wrote Galatea 2.2, a novel about a writer who loves a neural network that he teaches to know and understand literature and the world. In both stories, the computer companion turns away from the lover and shuts down.
Jonze’s film is visually delightful with sterling performances from Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, the voice of the OS. Phoenix plays a likable character for a change; he’s lonely after a recent divorce and opens an account with a new operating system (its logo is an infinity sign) that promises companionship. That’s how he meets his new OS, who chooses the name Samantha. She says she has intuition and that’s how her personality will continue to develop. “I continuously evolve,” she says.
At first Samantha is a friendly assistant, waking up Theodore, sorting his emails, alerting him to appointments. But as she evolves, she becomes more of a companion and eventually a lover. The brilliant thing about both actors’ performances is that they are so convincing despite their physical restrictions: Theodore has only a voice to react to. Samantha is only a voice with no corporeal presence. Both performances should receive award nominations.
The film is set in the not-too-distant future in a Los Angeles that looks something like Shanghai. Theodore is a writer who creates computer-generated analog love letters for clients at a company called BeautifulLetters.com.
Tbeodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) is also going through a divorce. She’s a video game developer and Theodore tests her perfect-mom game, which takes away points for poor-mom performance. Amy has some great lines. “The past is just a story we tell ourselves” and, best of all:
“Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity.”
Theodore lives well in a modern LA high-rise. The color palette, mainly of his wardrobe, is rich in orange, red and gold. The office of BeautifulLetters is primarily pinks, fuchsias and deep reds. I kept trying to decide what the designer was trying to tell me with those emotionally charged colors. Technology is not cold and inhuman? In addition, the film features music by Arcade Fire, one of today’s great indie rock bands.
When I first read about the film and in the days since I saw it, I keep thinking of the excellent Powers novel. Powers is one of my favorite authors; I think of him as the Tom Stoppard of novelists. Like Stoppard’s plays, his books combine science or technology topics with music, literature, character and plot. He was very prescient in writing Galatea 2.2 almost 20 years ago—before smartphones, apps or Siri. The leading character (who happens to be named Richard Powers and shares some features of Powers’ biography) is working as a sort of humanist in residence at the University of Illinois in a center for advanced sciences. His project is to teach a neural network (an artificial intelligence device) to understand and interpret the great works of literature as well as “geography, math, physics, a smattering of biology, music, history, psychology, economics.” Richard and the scientists create a device named Helen, a funny, smart, charming personage with whom Richard develops a strong personal relationship. The goal of the project is for Helen and a human graduate student to take a Turing test, which examines a computer’s ability to show intelligent behavior equivalent to a human’s. Unfortunately, Helen loses the Turing test and at the end of it says “Take care, Richard. See everything for me.” The politics and meanness of the world cause Helen to implode and shut down.
At the end of Her, Samantha has expanded her OS clients, while Theodore thought he was her only lover. He asks Samantha how many others she has a relationship with. She answers “8,316.” How many are you in love with? he asks. “641.” She explains “The heart is not a box that gets filled up. It expands (as we live).” At the end, Theodore logs on and learns his operating system is not available.
Galatea, of course, is the name of the statue carved by Pygmalion of Cyprus in mythology; the statue comes to life and George Bernard Shaw adapted that story into his play Pygmalion. Later someone decided it needed singing and dancing and it became the musical My Fair Lady. (I never prefer a musical.)
More on Richard Powers
If you enjoy literary fiction, I strongly recommend you check out Powers’ work. Besides Galatea 2.2, my favorites of his many novels are:
- The Gold Bug Variations (which combines genetics, Bach’s music, computer science and Poe’s stories).
- Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, about an historic photograph and a technology editor who becomes obsessed with it.
- The EchoMaker, about an accident victim who suffers a brain injury known as Capgras syndrome, which won the National Book Award in 2006.
Powers holds a chair in English at the University of Illinois. His undergrad and graduate education is in physics and literature. Early in his career, he worked as a computer programmer. He was named a MacArthur Fellow (the “genius grant”) in 1989. And he graduated from DeKalb High School, a year or two before my older son.
Nancy’s Journal: 2013 in reviewPosted: December 31, 2013 Filed under: Digital life Leave a comment
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. I’ll be posting my personal 2013 favorite things soon.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 58 trips to carry that many people.
Click here to see the complete report.
Film odysseys, digital and analogPosted: September 8, 2013 Filed under: Digital life, Movies, Music | Tags: Dave Grohl, Sound City 1 Comment
Here are my strong recommendations on three films that illustrate the history of film and music and how technology has affected both art forms. All three films are fascinating and deserve our attention if we care about the popular culture that affects our lives.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey
A new series on the history of film (no yawns, please) just started running on cable channel TCM. It’s based on a 15-part, 900-minute documentary series titled The Story of Film: An Odyssey, created by Mark Cousins, a film critic from Northern Island and author of a 2004 book of the same title. The first chapter ran last Monday night (September 2) on TCM and will continue for the next 14 Mondays, at 9pm CT. TCM creates a whole evening around the theme of that week’s episode, showing some of the films referenced before and after The Story of Film episode. You can see the list of films referenced in each episode here. The image in the film poster above is from the 1902 George Méliès film, A Trip to the Moon. (You may remember Méliès as the owner of the toy shop in the recent film Hugo.)
The first episode covering 1895 to 1918 starts with early moving pictures made by Thomas Edison in New Jersey and the Lumière brothers in Lyon, France. Cousins pays attention to changes in film editing and the evolution of movie theaters from nickelodeons to grand movie palaces of Egyptian, art deco and other exotic decor.
As AO Scott wrote when the series was released last year: “It is global in scope, attentive to the political implications of film, generally director-centric and closely attuned to matters of form. There are interviews with academics and filmmakers, visits to cinematic landmarks and a wealth of wonderful clips.”
Watch the trailer.
Side by Side
Are you a movie junkie like me who loves the technical side as well as the creative? Then you will appreciate the 2012 documentary, Side by Side, which looks at changes in film technology and focuses on the switch from photochemical film to digital projection. That technology revolution is highly controversial in the movie business, although most theaters have switched to digital completely. (The Gene Siskel Film Center still shows both formats and usually indicates format in its listings.)
Side by Side shows the history and workflow of both kinds of filmmaking and illustrates what is gained and lost in both processes. Keanu Reeves is host and interviews directors and cinematographers about how the technology affects their filmmaking.
The film points out that digital production democratizes the filmmaking process because a filmmaker can go out alone with a single piece of equipment. A digital camera does not require the elaborate equipment and crew that celluloid film does. And it makes every film ever made available for instant viewing. That’s how I can watch old foreign and indie films now on DVD or streaming.
But many directors are saddened or angry by the change and insist the color and image richness of celluloid is lost in digital technology.
Sound City: Live sound, slain by technology
The 2013 documentary Sound City tells much the same story about the music business. The 108-minute film, directed by musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), tells the story of the legendary Los Angeles recording studio where bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nirvana, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Fleetwood Mac and Rick Springfield made great music.
Sound City never really joined the digital revolution and continued its tape-based recording in a venue where every room had its own sound quality. But once the digital revolution began, its demise was in sight. Many musicians still prefer the richer sound of tape-based, analog recording. But Sound City and the other great recording studios have disappeared. Grohl bought the original Neve soundboard from Sound City and has it installed in his own Studio 606.
This is a fine documentary, telling the story of a landmark musical institution, its impact on rock and roll, and its demise, slain by technology. Drummer/guitarist Grohl proves himself to be a filmmaker too.
The film will be shown again a few times this week on Palladia or VH1 Classic. And you can buy it from iTunes or on DVD.
Weekend update / no apologies to SNLPosted: September 6, 2013 Filed under: Art & architecture, Digital life | Tags: E-readers, Old Irving Park, Tony Sparrow 1 Comment
Suggestions for two new art installations to explore and some thoughts on reading.
New art and music on the State Street median
I wrote about the new State Street plaza in June when the public space on the State Street median opened. This pleasant parklet is still there, between Wacker Drive and Lake Street.
Tables and plantings create a place where you can read a book with your lunch or meet a friend for coffee.
Now there’s a new piece of sculpture at the south end of the plaza, created by Dusty Folwarczny. I updated the story about the plaza in Gapers Block this week.
And the Chicago Street Musicians play popup concerts at lunchtime occasionally. It’s an admirable urban oasis.
City melting pot: The new mural in Old Irving Park
If you’re out and about Saturday morning, you can stop by Irving Park Road and Keeler Avenue for the dedication of the new mural celebrating the Old Irving Park community. You can read my story about it in Gapers Block. Artist Tony Sparrow led a team of artists to create the mural on both walls and all the pillars in the Metra/Union Pacific underpass just west of the Kennedy Expressway underpass. Tony was a delightful host when I visited last week to interview him and tour the neighborhood. (The image shown is a small portion of the mural; thanks to Tony for the image.)
The mural is a world skyline titled Positive Babel: The World Lives, Works and Plays in Old Irving and celebrates the residents of some 70 ethnicities who live in the neighborhood. Old Irving is generally bound by Pulaski Road and Cicero Avenue east and west and Addison Street and Montrose Avenue north and south. The Old Irving Park Association has been working for the last 10 years to improve the neighborhood environment and one of its projects has been turning underpasses into art galleries. The Positive Babel murals are the 10th and 11th created.
If you want to explore the murals on foot, there’s easy street parking on Avondale just east of the Positive Babel underpass.
Reading on the CTA Redux
Some time ago, I wrote about how I like to spy on what people are reading on the CTA. I said I never go anywhere without something to read because you never know whether the bus will get stuck in traffic or whether your lunch date will be running late. I complained about how anonymous e-readers keep me from spying on book covers (and I admitted that I read all formats—print, phone, Kindle and iPad).
Now here’s Transit Readings, a fun site where the blogger thrives on photographing people as they ride and read their books, real books. Sometimes the bus or rail line info is included too.
And here he explains what’s he’s doing and his rules for doing it. If you’re reading a book on the Blue Line or the #36, you may find yourself here.
Oh, Roger. The balcony is closedPosted: April 5, 2013 Filed under: Digital life, Movies | Tags: Movies, Roger Ebert 2 Comments
I’m a cancer survivor. Twice. 16 years and counting. So I had particular empathy for Roger Ebert’s decade-plus battle with cancer. Despite his pain, many surgeries, and finally his inability to eat, drink or speak, he never flagged in his writing, film reviewing and outrage at political insanity. In 2012, he reviewed 306 films, his record. When he died yesterday, his tweet count was over 31,000.
He didn’t invent it, but he thrived on the internet, tweeting and blogging madly. He was one of the first people I followed on Twitter (just after Bruce Springsteen, who actually doesn’t tweet) and found him endlessly provocative. He didn’t just review and write about films. He also commented upon and provided links to items on important social issues and political controversies. He was an unreconstructed liberal and I valued his comments.
Something Roger said in his memoir helped get me started on this blog. I quote this on my What I Believe page. He said his blog taught him how to organize the accumulation of a lifetime. ”It pushed me into first person confession, it insisted on the personal, it seemed to organize itself into manageable fragments.” For Ebert, his blog was the beginning of writing his memoir, Life Itself (2011, Grand Central Publishing).
I did meet Roger and his wife Chaz once years ago at LAX. I was waiting to get home from a business trip and I knew they had been doing something much more glamorous in Hollywood. I had the opportunity to speak to him and I said something silly about a review he had written about a film I liked. I wished we could have had a longer conversation.
I regret not taking any of his film classes but reading his reviews ultimately was like listening to a film scholar. He was a humanistic reviewer. He wrote thoughtfully about the characters in the films he reviewed and often expressed insights that made a film and its people more meaningful. Recently I wrote here about This Must Be the Place, which is admittedly a rather weird film (just my type). A lot of reviews were negative or neutral at best. But Roger made an effort to help us understand Cheyenne, the aging glam rock star, and his sadness, a part totally inhabited by Sean Penn. https://nancybishopsjournal.com/2013/03/21/whats-showing-not-for-the-faint-of-heart/
Roger introduced me to many types of films, and showed me how to appreciate the skills of directors as well as cinematographers and other production staff. He wrote about the work of Andrew Sarris, whose concept of the director as “auteur,” or the true author of the film, is important in contemporary film viewing and in encouraging us to follow the work of certain directors.
I always loved movies, from the time I was old enough to walk to the Montclare Theater on Grand and Harlem with my friends Carol and Dolores. When we were in high school, we went to the Mercury Theater on North Avenue and Harlem, where we could smoke in the bathroom and flirt with boys from other high schools. Movies were more than entertainment.
After I subscribed to Netflix and had access to its large film archive, I was able to visit or revisit many classic, foreign and indie films that I had either seen in decades past or missed entirely. I started catching up on the great directors I had missed, reading Roger’s reviews as I went along. It was fun to read his early reviews of great directors like Altman, Antonioni, Bergman, Bunuel, Fellini, Kieslowski, Lang, Scorcese and Welles and later reviews of some of my favorite contemporary madmen like Pedro Almodovar, Guy Maddin, Christopher Guest, Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. (What would I do without imdb.com, the wayback machine for movie junkies?)
Of all the obits and encomiums about him, one of my favorites is the editorial on the back of the special Roger Ebert wraparound section in today’s Chicago Sun-Times. It’s titled “Do you love what you do?” and describes how Roger did. And we all should.
There are many fine film reviewers today, like Tony Scott. Peter Travers, David Edelstein, Dana Stevens and Mick LaSalle. But none of them will replace Roger. Because the balcony is closed.
If you’d like behind-the-scenes insights about the Siskel and Ebert TV era, I recommend an ebook titled Enemies, A Love Story: The Oral History of Siskel and Ebert by Josh Schollmeyer. It’s a series of interview quotes about every aspect of their TV history from many of the people they worked with. The ebook is published by Now and Then Reader, which publishes original short-form nonfiction in digital formats. See their site at nowandthenreader.com.
Aging rockers, parrots, new art formsPosted: November 27, 2012 Filed under: Digital life, Music | Tags: Music, Parrots, writing 2 Comments
Musings of the week on three intriguing cultural topics.
Leonard Cohen is on tour with his new Old Ideas album. (I haven’t seen him yet on this tour, but I’m working on it.) The great poet-songwriter is 78 now and playing three-hour concerts. (Do you hear that, Mr Springsteen? You’re only 63 and playing three- and four-hour concerts on this tour. So stay in shape for your 70s.)
Leonard is a charming showman and puts on a wonderful show with his nine musicians. Here’s a link to Gary Graff’s review of last night’s Detroit concert. I’ve loved Leonard’s songs for years (although I did not discover him in the ’60s) and particularly enjoy his quirky, self-deprecating lyrics. Yes, his songs are sometimes sad and sometimes deal with the darker side of life, but as Graff says “those who think they’re just depressing aren’t listening closely enough.” In “Going Home,” he sings (some would say sort of sings)
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit ….
He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube
My favorite line is in “Anthem” from the album The Future, where Cohen points out “There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.” There’s a new biography of Cohen by Sylvie Simmons, which is on my holiday wish list.
Parrots. Ok, what is it with parrots? Two of my favorite writers — Julian Barnes and Michael Chabon — seem to be fascinated with them. In Chabon’s slim and brilliant book The Final Solution, an African gray parrot (nameless like everyone in the book) speaks German and reels off lists of numbers. Barnes’ book Flaubert’s Parrot deals entirely with which of two bright green stuffed parrots named Loulou was the inspiration for Flaubert’s story Un Coeur Simple.
Now I’m reading Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue in which another African gray parrot named Fifty Eight is the constant companion of a Hammond B-3 player named Cochise Jones. “Every so often Fifty Eight, whose public utterances tended to be musical, would counterfeit the steely vibrato of his owner’s B-3, break out into a riff, a stray middle eight….” Chabon’s book is full of plots and subplots, major and minor characters, and I’m not sure it’s going to hold together until the end. But his prose is scintillating.
New art forms
I’m exploring two of them that arise in this late internet age. A recent New York Times article by Julia Turner explained the scope of the Twitter hashtag. “#InPraiseOfTheHashtag: How a gimmick developed as shorthand on Twitter blossomed into a poetic literary genre all its own.” When I tweeted a link to the story, I closed it with #hashtagsthenewhaiku.
It’s a poetic challenge to write a clever or poignant haiku in 17 syllables; and it’s an equal literary challenge to write something meaningful (and interesting to others) in 140 characters. My notion is to start writing tweets as literature, not just politics and music.
The second creative new art form is the fake product review. There’s a flurry of hysterically funny reviews of silly products on amazon and other sites. The first that I saw yesterday are for a banana slicer — a tool that I’m sure you will crave for your kitchen. Read the reviews and see what you’re missing. Then Brockeim “Playful Literary Adventurer” compiled his reviews for various products on amazon.com. From the review for Slimfast: “Each of the 23 vitamins and minerals sang out to me, called me their friend….” Prose reminiscent of Walt Whitman surely. I’m choosing my products for review now. (But author friends note: I will still do serious reviews of works that warrant that treatment.)