Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waveform Rings

Customized to your recorded "I do." So cool/ too nerdy?
By Sakurako Shimizu

Friday, February 20, 2009

Alternative Cult Posters

Currently: Fresh.

Source: keepmesane's photostream

Monday, February 16, 2009

Studio Ghibli

I just about yelled when I saw this flyer at Buffalo* yesterday. Studio Ghibli films (notably those of Hayao Miyazako) are some of the best animated films ever made. Not only are they immaculately drawn, they are full of unforgettable characters, vivid imagination, and timeless themes. Many of the peaceful natural settings trigger a kind of nostalgia for life's simple pleasures. It's hard for me to explain how much some of these films have so deeply touched me when I watched them as a teenager.. and how.. The couple of SG films I have seen feature young girls with strong wills and good hearts who go off on wildly imaginative adventures, meeting magical friends, mysterious young men, and surprisingly relatable villains along the way. Actually, much of the stories are open-ended and not fully explained, but are intricately woven, which lends to the wonder of it all. The ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary, and hope is ever-present. One could call it a childhood innocence, but they are by no means naive. And they are by no means only for children either. Studio Ghibli serves as a golden example that storytelling is truly an art.

I plan to have my kids grow up watching these, instead of Disney or whatever animated films will dominate the American film industry at that time. And, I am so, so psyched that APL has the good taste to put this on. Good to know that Austin doesn't have a narrow taste for only weird, hip, art, or local filmmaking. These free screenings are highly recommended! (I'll be there starting March 14, for Castle in the Sky)

*Buffalo Exchange- I really don't prefer going there. Second hand shops always have such a mysterious old smell about them, and their stuff isn't really that cheap anyway. And their so snooty about which clothes of yours they will take, when they've got ugly/trite pieces in their racks. I've known many people to unearth some gems there, but I do not have that drive in me. I sold a bagful of clothes (mostly from Hong Kong and Japan) for $28. I was so proud of my earnings, until I realized that I have dropped twice that price for single articles of clothing that I ended up not wearing. The more things you buy, the more money you lose.. It's a bit frustrating to me that clothes are so expensive, but then again, we (lower middle class and up) don't buy clothes for their functional purpose most of the time, we buy them for their social value. The fashion cycle sucks. Per the capitalism articles below, we are totally being duped. You'll never capture the new (which is actually always recycled = old).

Source: City of Austin APL

Friday, February 13, 2009


I'm on a Rob Horning roll!

This excerpt exemplifies a feeling I've always been haunted by and only recently pinpointed.

"In Marx’s view, the economic roles we fulfill shape the horizon of our subjective aims while serving the underlying function of reproducing the existing system. For most of us, that economic role boils down to “consumer”, which means we must embody the restless pursuit of novelty, at least to the degree to which we want to be at harmony with the culture we live in. As a result, it’s hard to avoid the feeling of missing out on something, no matter how into whatever it is we actually are doing."



The article that I referenced a few posts below is so dense. I honestly can't stop thinking about it. I used to think hard about these things while I was in school studying Sociology. The future we fear is here.
If you haven't read it, give it a look. I even made the font tiny for you.

"The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people."
— Marx, Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts

From Envy to Ennui
In a culture where the Duane Reade drug store on my corner is selling, of all things, The Great Santini on DVD, you have to wonder whether the tortuous paths commodities take to get to market are even capable of being analyzed. Clearly the whole system has become so huge and unwieldy that the distribution of goods follows its own Byzantine logic. It's as if the goods themselves seek out sites for profit making, or colonizing new spaces for the market, with Borg-like efficiency. It seems to make no sense to talk about scarcity in such a culture, but it may be that scarcity is most acute in a society that is surfeited with goods, and one of the primary forms in which this scarcity makes itself felt is boredom, a perpetual discontentment, a restless desire for the new.

Scarcity, as economist Marshall Sahlins among many others argues, is not some absolute, ontological condition, universally consistent no matter the context. Scarcity is actually relative, defined, in Sahlins's words, by "a relationship between means and ends." (Stone-Age Economics, Aldine, 1972). What one feels she is lacking is determined by what others in society are capable of getting. Scarcity isn't a matter of deprivation; it's a matter of cultivated envy. We are well fed, yet we feel deprived in proportion to the amount of stuff those similar to us seem to have. The human need for distinction runs almost as deep as the need to eat (if not deeper, if pathological dieting is any indication). The twin forces of emulation (the tendency of social classes to emulate the consumption patterns of those above them, thus forcing the upper classes to change them) and adaptation (the unfortunate way humans come to take any established level of material comfort for granted) conspire to make discontent chronic. So despite mass production, which was supposed to bring about universal satiety, we have found ways to create symbolic scarcity — scarcity at the level of social or cultural capital, to use sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's terminology — when no material scarcity exists.

This isn't because we're naturally vain and capricious. Rather, it's because social validation is fundamental to our well-being, and increasingly, our only source of social recognition is through the things we own. It's the commodity of respect — the sense of being socially recognized — that continues to be rationed, even amidst a superfluity of Great Santini DVDs and six-ounce bags of ranch-flavored Doritos and the like. Economist Fred Hirsch argues that what he calls "social scarcity" derives from the inevitable existence of positional goods, that special preserve of rare goods that can confer status, that can serve as a commodified, simplified means for granting the social respect we require. For example, the fashion industry exists, essentially, to manufacture positional goods out of homogenous, unbranded ones. Producing more goods in general can do nothing to ease the feelings of scarcity that come from this; in fact, a greater supply of schlocky 99-cent-store junk may be necessary to lend fashionable goods their air of comparative scarcity. Far from being a cure for social scarcity, mass production may be its precondition.

If this line of thinking is correct, the permanence of social classes, (regardless of the capacity to move between them, despite the egalitarian promise implicit in democracy) renders all striving, all attempts to consume one's way up the ladder, pointless. The rules are always changing; once you get the SUV, your betters start driving a Prius. And even if you own the right things, your nouveau-riche awkwardness with them will stigmatize you. Only after we've taken the bait and chased after the positional goods, do we discover how mercurial the upper-class habitus — the approach to living [elaborated by Bourdieu in Distinction (Harvard UP, 1987)] that only a life-long sense of entitlement can engender, manifest in things like body language and conversational style as well as subtlety of taste — can be. It's at this point, when the ladder reveals itself as a treadmill, that the pangs of class jealousy are transformed into boredom, and the turning wheel of fashion is reconfigured in the popular mind as not a generator of class distinction but a whimsical cavalcade of novelties for their own sake. The struggle against boredom, then, helps keep us motivated in the face of an intransigent class structure.

Learning Boredom
As someone who's overwhelmed with anxiety if confronted with a 10-minute train ride with no reading material, I'm always amazed at how very young children can entertain themselves for hours with a Lincoln log, a Lego piece, or a pretzel stick. I'm no child psychologist (I'm not even a parent) but my limited observations lead me to think that a kid's instinctual impulse is to entertain herself by creating, by engaging with things, by interacting with the environment and with others in order to discover the limits of her understanding and possibly expand that limit while demonstrating a greater mastery over reality and her ability to manipulate materials. In this, she demonstrates autonomy and efficacy, things strongly correlated with individual happiness, according to political scientist Robert Lane's assessment of recent psychological and sociological research (The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, Yale UP, 2001.) So why do children by the age of eight seem so eager to be passive, so willing to stare at screens, waiting to be mesmerized? Why do they suddenly become screechingly bored if they can't watch Shrek 2 from the back seat on a ride to the grocery store? In other words, how do they inevitably become subject to my predicament?

Something awful seems to happen to American children in front of televisions and in the aisles of big-box toy stores and in movie theaters. The discipline kids learn in the theater, for example, reinforces in a "play" context lessons taught in elementary school: their anxious parents shushing them and demanding them to be quiet, and still and non-vocal, purely interior and self-involved in their responses. They learn passivity, becoming complacent and reliant upon the culture industry for their ability to be distracted from themselves, to be "entertained". There they are, surrounded by other kids for the sole purpose of reinforcing the message that they should never pay attention to each other but instead to these retarded cartoon animals flickering on the screen in front of them. Pleasure, the message is, comes from products, not from the company of peers. A child's ability to engage himself in the world is thereby routed through entertainment, and the idea that he would make his own entertainment fades from their world of possibilities. The child has become primed for boredom.

It should be impossible to be bored in a society such as America, with such a boisterous and thriving culture industry that devotes billions of dollars to keeping people entertained with a cornucopia of films, television shows, songs, magazines, books, sporting events, tourist destinations, celebrity award shows, and the like. But entertainment is subject to the same paradoxes of scarcity as any other commodity. Just as the more a society produces, the more potential there is for the feeling of scarcity, for perceiving relative scarcity; the more entertainment options there are, the more we become aware of boredom. In other words, boredom is relative, too. It is a skill that must be learned.

After the childhood years, boredom is taught primarily in the workplace, where scientific management schemes and efficiency experts have systematically made work boring by removing from it every iota of thought and skill. If every movement a worker must make is prescribed in advance, the chance of a worker wasting time is reduced radically, as is the chance he'll derive any enjoyment from his job. But that's all right: quashing meaningful work is a good in and of itself (in fact, modern economics is predicated on individuals seeing work as a "disutility") as it means workers will be forced to rely on post-work leisure-time consumption as compensation for the drudgery of the work day. Satisfying work might hamper the consuming impulse.

In "Labor and Monopoly Capital", (Monthly Review Press, 1974) Harry Braverman describes how scientific-management practices that were first implemented in factories to maximize productive efficiency — organizing assembly lines, installing time clocks, stripping workers of their craft knowledge (skills learned through experience) and institutionalizing it at the management level, reducing jobs to the simplest repetitive motions — spread throughout the whole of the capitalist economy so that no one's free from having their work pre-planned and rationalized. So rather than finding work that allows one to discover her particular talents, one is instead forced to reduce oneself to the contours of a restricting job description prepared in advance.

As all aspects of work are rationalized, all workers become clock-watchers, acutely aware of the value of time, and hence covetous of it as though it were a precious object. Any moment not planned for begins to feel wasted, any thought not already directed at some productive end feels like a useless one, until finally one feels startled and affronted if left with any free time to deepen thought or discover new things to think about. We start to interpret the rare freedom to let one's mind roam unencumbered as indicative of underutilization, and we almost resent such free time, as though our bosses have somehow underestimated us and not given us enough to do. Since we're trained from childhood not to value the luxury of free thought, and since all initiative to think for ourselves and all cultural validation for autodidacticism has been effaced from the working world, we experience this erstwhile freedom to think undirected thoughts as boredom, as sullen blankness.

Perfecting Disposability
Given this dire scenario, the culture industry's primary function becomes one of habituating workers to their fate: to routinely expect boredom and to see the oscillation in and out of states of boredom as the only kind of joy. So accordingly, mass entertainments, with their interchangeable stories and their quick-cut edits and their rejection of complexity, carefully cultivate the short-attention span, continuing the cultural work initiated at the multiplex during the children's movie. Concentration is counterproductive in a consumer, whereas boredom suits the consumer economy: incapable of forming deep attachments to cultural commodities, and spurred by sublimated class envy, shoppers become perpetually restless for novelty, making serial purchases with spiraling frequency until the ever more tenacious habit of boredom renders them instantaneously empty upon possession. At that point, the act of acquisition is the only moment of pleasure, and one's life becomes a perpetual buying spree.

So one doesn't become bored with popular culture, boredom is built into it: in the products themselves and the system by which they're disseminated. Of course, if you could just listen to one album and find lasting entertainment, the music industry would suffer. Hence, the record industry tilts toward albums like Crunk Juice and artists like Jessica Simpson rather then turning out London Calling after London Calling. Planned obsolescence is the popular-culture norm; it's perverse to expect it to be other than disposable. Disposability may be what marks it as popular culture; it's popular because it's accessible to a maximum amount of people for a minimal amount of time, so that over time, the maximum amount is consumed. Not bound by the upper-class habitus that makes social landmines of positional goods, popular culture has no educational prerequisites. And its effervescent transience means you stake none of your identity on it. It requires no commitment. No one ever really remembers that you enjoyed the last Brittany Murphy movie, or that you liked that Tweet single, or that you were tracking the fate of Jen and Brad's relationship.

Often, cultural critics make the mistake of suggesting that the shallowness of the People magazines and the reality dating shows and the Alone in the Dark's of the world is a consequence of the shallow people making it, and with better artists and better material it could be redeemed. But its shallowness is not an unfortunate effect of circumstances or a reflection of its creators. It takes great skill, armies of talented editors and producers, to make it that way. Like record executives, television producers and magazine editors are not out to keep you perpetually fascinated by any one thing they've crafted. This would quickly make their jobs superfluous. Actually, the editors seeking bold-faced names and quick-hitting anecdotes to fill the front-of-book sections of celebrity weeklies and lifestyle monthlies, by applying their criteria of immediacy and timeliness and sensuousness, by demanding writing that seems to read itself and that elicits those sugary bursts of fascination that have the unfortunate effect of quickly burning out your attention, by applying the hypersensitivity to boredom that mainly constitutes their craft knowledge, essentially teach you how to be quickly bored.

In failing to presume attentiveness in readers, editors posit by their efforts an ideal reader who is unenthusiastic, tepid, uninterested, shallow. And in reading what they fashion for us, we become this shallow person. And happily so, because this shallow person is everywhere being validated by the culture created with him (or her) in mind, all the flattery inherent in beer and truck commercials, all the solicitous interest paid in cosmetics ads, all the earnest well-wishing in advice columns and horoscopes. With real social recognition more and more scarce, we accept this ersatz validation as substitute.

It's better to regard the true task of the editor not as discriminating among cultural goods for us but expediting our consumption of them. Editors make our experience of culture faster; they allow us to take in more. So while seeming to refine the quality of culture, editors are actually concerned with quantities. As with shopping, where the pleasure of purchasing is often more salient than the usefulness of what is bought, picking what to read next may give more pleasure than reading itself. Thus, the faster we can absorb cultural objects — book reviews, songs, Tivoed TV shows, restaurants, et cetera — the happier we are, as we get to the pleasure of selecting more and more of them. What has become tantamount, here as in the workplace, is efficiency, maximizing the usage of our consumption time just as we have been taught to maximize our production.

It takes time and effort to consume; it's as much a job as our job. According to economist Staffan Linder, the wider array of choices of how to spend our leisure time makes every minute of that time more valuable. If we work to enjoy leisure, then consumption time needs to be as concentrated as work time, as full of as much stuff as possible (The Harried Leisure Class, Columbia UP, 1970). Hence, the modern editor and her analogues seek to permit us to read as much of, say, Entertainment Weekly, as we can while sitting on the toilet, or riding the bus, or sitting in a waiting room. In this way, convenience becomes a predominant value in our culture, to the point where ease of consumption trumps the nature of what specifically is being consumed. (It's better to eat quickly at Burger King than dally over diner food.) If the breadth of our social identity develops through consumption, then convenient consumption makes us bigger people. It gives our lives more throughput.

But just as new highways merely lead to more traffic congestion and cell phone use seems to lead to much more inefficient planning, more conveniently consumable commodities only sharpen the urgency of our consuming need without yielding much satisfaction. The quantum leap in convenience afforded by technology and by our increasingly efficient markets open up unimaginable possibilities for consumption and choice, but we end up overwhelmed by them and the time we need to sort all of them out. Conveniences don't lead to more leisurely relaxation; they just lead to a heightened need for more conveniences. And these multiplying options do nothing to assuage boredom; they merely cement its status as our default emotion, what we feel in the absence of feeling, what was once known as "peace".

* * *
For more Rob Horning, visit the Marginal Utility blog.

No more fantasy

When I first saw you
I knew that you had a flame in your heart
And under wild blue sky, marble moon skies
I found a home in your eyes, we'd never be apart

And when the fires came, the smell of cinders and rain
Perfumed almost everything
We laughed and laughed and laughed
And in the golden blue,
You took me to the darkest place you knew
And set fire to my heart

When I run in the dark
Into a place that's lost
Under a sheet of gray (?) in my heart
I dream of home

But in a goodbye bet with my arms around your neck
Into our mouths the tears crept,
Just kids in the eye of the storm
And as my house (?) ran round,
My dream pulled me from the ground
Forever to search for the flame,
For home again, for home again

-- Moving song, but I've become more cynical about fantasy worlds in art. Time to live in the actual world?--

Made the chocolate lava cake of yesterday's post. I used a small 7" casserole dish ($1 from Goodwill), left it too long in the oven, so it wasn't molten, but fully cooked. It was super rich and B and I couldn't even finish it between the 2 of us. He had it mixed in with his vanilla yogurt, which reminded me of how my roommates and I used to do that with No-Pudge brownies to make them go a little bit further.

Commented on a recent blog post by my friend Rachel. The topic of her post really hit me hard and reminded me of what I lack in my surroundings and social interactions. I have too many things, and not enough community. Why is it so hard to cultivate or find??

Img source: Jorgen1032's photostream

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tortuous Boredom

Why are we still so bored in a culture of rampant consumption? This is what I'm afraid of for my kids, and what I'm struggling so hard against right now. Partly why I can't stand visiting sites like Ffffound or It's Nice That more than every once in a while.
Don't become vapid and useless. Non-stop exposure to entertainment and "things" can turn you into machine that ceases to think or feel.

"The culture industry's primary function becomes one of habituating workers to their fate: to routinely expect boredom and to see the oscillation in and out of states of boredom as the only kind of joy."


Want Now

I want to try this recipe ASAP. The photo is enough to make me go back to Tuesday Morning and buy a discount Le Creuset oval baking stoneware dish. And maybe a few ramekins for future souffles.. Simple directions, common ingredients, and tasty- yes!!

Also seen at The Kitchn / Apt Therapy.


Enjoying the new Bat for Lashes today. It's way less boring than her last album, Fur & Gold. Dark, but not heavy. Good, but not stunning. She is also constantly being compared to Bjork and Kate Bush, both formidable musicians, which I think is sorta unfair. Let the girl do her own thing!
Glass - really dig the drums in this

And new Neko Case! Man I love her voice.
People Got A Lotta Nerve

Yesterday I got all worked up into a baking frenzy and then burned out at the end of the night. Made homemade pasta sauce (tomatoes, garlic, onion, spinach, zucchini, sausage), baked no-time bread, peach-blackberry crisp, and caramelized brussel sprouts with bacon. Too much cleaning and fullness!

Photo doesn't do justice. This came out steaming and bubbling after I opened the cover. Pretty healthy dessert! Fruit, flour, sugar, spices, oats, butter.

5 minutes of kneading, 50 seconds of microwave time, 15 minutes of rise time.

Result! A fragrant and very dense loaf of white whole wheat bread. Will try the no-knead recipe on some weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Azn alert

There's another Asian in the house! Well, she works in the upstairs suite and is probably giving me a bad name. I like using the bathrooms upstairs because they are cleaned more often, but lately she's been leaving obvious black strands of hair in the sink and get this... peeing on the toilet seat!?!? If you're not going to sit on the toilet at least pee into it. This is no good. And we have the same kinky, scraggly hair (maybe from not brushing and substituting bedhead for style).

I have encountered her once. I hate it when Asians look at me differently, merely because I look the same. I didn't decide my looks. It makes me feel weird, because there is definitely no connection, even in a roomful of white people.

Sara and Jeni- No laughing!

Watched The Girl Who Leapt Through Time during dinner with B last night. (I made a tomato-zucchini-mushroom pasta sauce for our Butoni. Not into canned or jarred premade sauce anymore, since it's so easy to make your own). I will never admit that I like anime in general, because the definition is too loose, but this movie I liked very much. It was whimsical without being weird, and featured strong character development/ growing up. The anime that I have watched most often features a young girl protagonist, and most often makes me melancholy afterward. It's the hints that there is magic underneath the surface of your small existence, and that you can experience great joys and loss from tapping into that. Like Spirited Away and especially Howl's Moving Castle, there were so many questions left unanswered in this movie. I guess it's only American movies that have to make everything so obvious and neatly tied up for their audiences to not feel uncomfortable later on. Here's a well-written review.

Boyd's loving on the laptop while we watch. No chewing allowed. Or scary cat reflective eyes.

I want to go on a safari

Yesterday after work, I went to Tuesday Morning in search of some discount kitchen supplies. I grew up near a Tuesday Morning and had always regarded it as a junk store that my grandma liked to buy flowery mugs from. I think I only went in there once. I'm glad I gave it another chance in another life stage, because it's great! It's like a smaller Ross or Marshalls. Because I can't or shoudn't afford a dutch oven, I found a clay baking brick to use for baking bread. Never seen one before. It was only $20. There was a larger Emeril casserole pot that would've been much more appropriate, but I find it so hard to resist classic and functional items. Now I can finally try one of the various no-knead bread recipes; the original was published in the NYT in 2006, since then normal people have been going crazy over it (and dutch ovens). Less rise time! No rise time! Divide the dough in 2! Dutch oven alternatives! Flickr pool!

I love plain, cardboard packaging. Especially for items that are purportedly of high quality.

Isn't it such a cute shape? It is unglazed clay. So raw. And in the old-style logo on the lid, it says "for cooking meat or fowl at home or on a safari." Who can resist? Not me. What is clay pot cooking?

I also bought a Cuisinart Santoku knife for B. At 1/3 the list price, I couldn't resist, even though I am on a tight budget. (I should instead encourage him to buy items he actually needs instead of fancy beer/food). I've been using mine for months and I love it. Can't believe I was previously using a serrated knife for all my cutting.

Here's an article about good kitchen finds in thrift stores, by the famed Mark Bitten. I am one of those who have jumped on the bandwagon- not for old clothes, but for old supplies. I need to limit my trips to Goodwill these days. Reuse, ya'll!

In other hobbies news, I finished Grant's scarf. I used the same brown yarn with rainbow flecks that I used on B's laptop and ds cases. Hope he likes it. I am thinking about shipping it to him, but he is coming down for SXSW in March and claims that Pittsburgh is still cold enough to wear a scarf then. Whew! Here it is being modeled by B.

This probably concludes my crocheting for a while. For Texans, at least. I'd take orders though. Doing it makes me feel a little bit more productive, and I need to feel productive to feel good. Haha. And that's what I'm going to try and address with my job, sometime..

[All photos taken with my phone, a Nokia 3120 Classic. I figured it's way more convenient to take and send photos to my email address, now that I have MMS setup- thanks B! I also haven't taken photos in nearly a week. Probably doesn't help that my cameras are all stowed away in the trunk. I am experiencing a lack of inspiration. This is bad, because I just bought and refurbished a camera. But what is worth taking a picture of? Same old life!]

Monday, February 09, 2009

Small Chances

This was a weird weekend. Broken car doors, big fight, crying in public, boring church conference, lost my DS... new rear wheel on my fixie, no photo-taking, found my DS, saw old ex-church friends, lots of sitting indoors, and recording.

B and I recorded a few tracks using Garageband yesterday afternoon. We were indoors for most of the day, which might have been unfortunate, since it was such a nice, overcast day outside, but it was worth it. I'm always glad to expand my creative pursuits, especially musically, since I played music (orchestra, "praise" band) up until the end of college. I've never really written my own music before. It's so hard to make something good. IMO, the biggest challenge is figuring out when to play and when not to play. Controlling your ideas and forcing them into an organized, thought-out package that makes sense and isn't just haphazard. That's where musicality comes in.

Recording requires a level of precision and perfectionism that usually incites my anxiety. And even though I secretly enjoy singing, I am frightened to bits when doing it in front of others. I don't have a very robust voice, it's more akin to a whisper, but if Vashti Bunyan can do it, then it must be OK. So to start small, I decided to cover a simple folk song that I can actually play on the guitar. It's only the first verse too. Rough and short, but at least I made something. B did the mixing/ effects. It's called "Second Chances" (original by Small Sur).

You can hear it here. (Only 10 downloads allowed since this is a free account, but I assume that will more than cover the readership of this post, haha.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

the velvet rut

My friend Maggie sent me this excerpt. Looks like I am in the early stages. Shoot. Edit: Apparently she was referring to Austin. I'm not afraid of leaving it though.

Humans are creatures of habit and often guilty, unintentionally, of lapsing into patterns that can, and often do, adversely impact many areas of their lives. As youngsters we tended to resist responsibilities and when allowed to continue, soon learned rules aren't for everyone - "if you're smart." When such patterns were allowed to develop, and as we grew older, we began to look for short cuts in every task we faced, no matter what, or whom, we had to use, in doing so.

The 'Velvet Rut' is where you find yourself in an unfulfilling job in which you are not learning anything new, not using the full extent of your skills and are just bored stiff. You probably disconnected several months ago and are now just going through the motions. The work is no longer stretching. You can do most of it with your eyes closed so you are unlikely to get fired for poor performance. Your level of competence and familiarity with the job means that, while it is not exciting, it isn't scary either. You are pretty much marking time. The difference between the 'Velvet Rut' and any normal rut, is that the pay and benefits are very good. You couldn't get the same amount of money for such an easy life anywhere else.
The longer you stay, the more comfortable the environment becomes because you know the organisation inside out and can therefore work the system. You thus minimise the risk of anything unexpected happening or of being faced with difficult situations. Seniority and good relationships leave you well placed politically, so the pay rises and good bonuses keep coming. You are also too expensive to make redundant because of your long service. You might feel as if your brain is shrinking and sometimes want to scream at the tedium and banality of it all but, in the final analysis, they are paying you way too much for you to pack it in and do something else.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Vanessa Redgrave

The times when I have truly savored a piece of art (music, film, book) have become rare. When it happens, I must remember it. I watched Blowup by myself one uneventful weekday night. I had heard of it before, and knew it was artsy and therefore, possibly quite boring, as I find so many art flicks to be. Not really knowing what to expect, I plopped down in front of my Macbook Pro with a glass of limeade, and was hooked by the first scene. This isn't meant to be a proper review, so if you want that, check out Amazon. The film was slow (normally can't stand that), but the shots were all so thoughtfully composed that I was never bored. It was especially interesting because the main character (not named) is a pro photographer in the 1960's, and he used a camera that is similar to my Canon AE-1P. He was played by David Hemmings, who I previously had not heard of, and was absolutely charming in a cruel and bored sort of way. He wasn't very handsome in the traditional sense, but there was an attractive vexation about him. And, I do love the mod men's fashion, buckle boots, high-water pants, tight clothes and all. Yes, overall he is a bad man who yells viciously at his emaciated models and has no real relationships. Props to Antonioni for making a somewhat likeable anti-hero.

When this film came out in 1966, it garnered a lot of attention for its explicit portrayal of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll era of the 1960's in Britain. A mysterious and striking woman the hero photographs in a public park also show up at his doorstep (played by a stunning Vanessa Redgrave), demands for the negatives, and attempts to seduce him. She sheds her top and wanders about his studio. Before she leaves, she coyly kisses the photographer. They continue kissing passionately. It appears to be a perfectly constructed scene to illustrate cinematic fantasy love, but the two are merely strangers using each other. Later on, two young women arrive begging to model for the photographer and in little time, all strip each other of their clothes in a partly violent, partly playful manner. An implied threesome follows and ends with the joyless protagonist returning to his work. Granted, compared to movies nowadays, these once-racy scenes may seem bland and induce a kind of embarrassment due to their datedness. But what was astonishing to me about these scenes was not how much flesh was revealed, but how Antonioni succeeded in portraying such a raw and emotionless sexuality. The musical score is by Herbie Hancock, but in many scenes, such as the sex scenes, there is no music. The camera does not zoom in on the women, even though they are beautiful. They do not stir up desire in the viewer, but rather, expose the meaningless and repetitive actions of the protagonist and his generation wilting away with ennui.

There were many quirky events in the film, notably a carful of college kids/mimes who drove around town, a Yardbirds concert whose crowd seemed eerily sedated, and the purchase of an old, defunct wooden plane propeller. It was weird without being alienating or pretentious. I have to admit that like a well-trained modern moviegoer, I was expecting.. some sort of plot, but there wasn't really one. More like half of one. In the end, I was left with many questions, but it was OK. I was content with the mystery of this odd film. I look forward to watching his other films, which apparently are also about rich, bored people.

The other film of note I enjoyed lately was The Wrestler. Having not seen other films about wrestling/boxing/ violent and manly sports (because of lack of interest), I was surprisingly engrossed in the story. It was starkly depressing and thankfully, never made the mistake of being maudlin. It took me a while to realize what a complete loser the protagonist was, but even after that, I didn't lose empathy. For someone with a very sensitive stomach, I felt that it was gritty without being obscene. Definitely one of the better new movies I've seen this past year. It's difficult coming to agreement with B on what movies to watch, because I prefer to be more discerning and would rather not watch a mediocre movie, since I have a limited amount of free time and don't like wasting it that way. But he would elect to watch even a bad movie just to get distract from reality for a while. Maybe I'm just more comfortable with facing the facts of life: that it is boring and sad a lot of the times. Ha.

Img source: Time