Admiring vs. Inhabiting Modern Minimalism

I credit Apple, Inc., for turning me on to minimalist design, an aesthetic that I became enamored of and nearly obsessed with …

… that is, until I inhabited it.

But, let’s start from the beginning, with the iMac G4, a mindblowing — to me anyway — reinvention of the personal computer:

imac-g4

Yes, previous Apple products had been rather minimalist, but this is the one that got me.

Now, let’s be clear, Apple did not, in any way, invent Minimalism, which, as a modern art form, dates all the way back to the early 1900s, AND has ancient roots in the Japanese Zen aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi.

But my eyes were opened, and eventually I would find myself attracted to minimalist art, architecture, and interior design.

I found the images and objects soothing in their simplicity. They seemed a welcome, refreshing contrast to the chaos, clutter, and decay in the world, and in some ways it all felt therapeutic to me, like meditation.

Then, about four years ago, my wife, son, and I moved out of the 100-year old Craftsman home we’d been living in for 20 years, and moved into a brand new, VERY modern house, which we decked out with modern furniture and decor, surrounded with minimalist landscaping, and then, slowly but surely …

… we found that inhabiting minimalism changed EVERYTHING.

What had been soothing and tidy from a distance became sterile and cold when it surrounded us day in, day out.

Rather than serving as a peaceful contrast to the disorder of the outside world, our house came to symbolize, to me, humanity’s ancient, foolhardy pursuit of permanence in an impermanent world.

Nature is, by nature, very messy, and yet we erect meticulously clean structures and adorn them with manicured lawns and landscaping that require near constant weeding and mowing and edging and pruning. Given the massive financial investment a house represents, some maintenance is, of course, necessary and wise, but bending nature to our will, to make it look the way we want it to, to allow it to exist only where we want it to exist, seems rather like hubris.

Additionally, modern minimalist homes and furniture do not age gracefully, as opposed to old Craftsman or farmhouse style homes, on which wear and tear adds a charming patina.

Starting with the very first scratch on our dark bamboo laminate flooring, one ding or scratch after another proved unavoidable, standing out like open wounds, and even a healthy scar left by a decent repair made things that had originally been designed to be pristine appear shabby.

Of course, this is all very subjective. I’m sure that many modern home dwellers are quite content, and I regret if anything said above comes across as judgment. For some, I suppose, the efforts to keep a clean, minimalist home clean and minimalist could be a meditative experience, and maintaining beauty and order a spiritual practice.

There clearly is no right or wrong here.

For us, the search is now on for our next home. It’ll be back to an older-style structure with older materials, where we can be our naturally cluttered and worn selves, where we’ll be made comforted and cozy by nature in all it’s messy glory.

nature-reclaiming-abandoned-places-5

Awareness vs. Self-Preservation: Revisited

burying-ones-head-in-the-sandThings typically get quiet around here, at Fish & Bicycles, around the December holidays, but if you read my last post, titled Awareness vs. Self-Preservation, it was likely pretty obvious that I was struggling with the weight of the world.

So, I took a break from blogging.

Thinking about it now, a few weeks later, I feel no small amount of embarrassment for having assumed that it was both humanly possible AND my responsibility to attempt to carry the weight of the world.

The several comments I got, from readers generous enough to take the time to offer suggestions, reminded me that like so many things in life, awareness vs. self-preservation is an artificial mental construct. There actually is no such choice to be made unless we irrationally convince ourselves otherwise. 

Rather, both things are desirable. Awareness is good and badly needed, AND humans need self-care, indeed self-preservation, in order to use that awareness, to notice the existing good in the world and the potential for manifesting more good.

As the new year approaches, I don’t currently have plans for any formal resolution-setting process, but I have set one goal, and that is to take better care of myself, that I might be better able to take care of others.

I’ve mentioned here numerous times over the years that I am a musician, and since, historically, one dependable way of taking care of myself is to make music, more specifically to make music with other musicians, one step I’ve already taken towards taking better care of myself is to fully commit to a new music project that I’m involved in.

I’ll share more details soon about this project, but for now I’ll say that it involves the most technically challenging music I’ve ever played, requiring me to work hard at learning new things, which at the age of 51 is no easy task, it involves building wonderful new, and warm, as it turns out, relationships with band members I’ve never played with before, and, having volunteered to build the band’s online presence, I’m getting to mix in other vehicles for creativity, like graphic art and writing.

So, I’ve definitely turned a corner, getting just enough distance between me and the gloom in the world so that I can carry on, do what I can, help when I can, be there for the people in my life here and now, and even experience the joys that remain entirely possible in life.

Awareness vs. Self-Preservation

burying-ones-head-in-the-sand

“It’s good to be exposed to politics and what’s going down here, but it does damage to me. Too much of it can cripple me. And if I really let myself think about it — –the violence, the sickness, all of it — –I think I’d flip out.”

–Joni Mitchell, from Rolling Stone Magazine, 1969

I think about this ALL the time!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was choosing to face some gloom, because not doing so would be contributing to the problem rather than the solution, and the toll it took on me was considerable, I just about flipped out.

See, I feel like, if I’m going to be helpful I need to be well-informed. But man, getting informed, reading as much as I can on issues, reading more than one source, reading competing ideas, it all adds up to a lot of exposure to ugly details, terrible injustices, radically horrible attitudes and ignorant ideologies.

And yet, even if you bury your head in the sand, your ass is still sticking up in the air and vulnerable to getting mightily kicked.

I do believe that spirituality can help, I keep doing my meditation and yoga in hopes that being more firmly grounded in the present moment and less susceptible to regret and fear will help, but I still can’t avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unforgiving harshness in the world.

So, what’s the solution?

How do people like career activists and humanitarian aid providers do it, day in and day out in some of the most desperate situations?

Any ideas?

 

Video Fridays: Guinea Pigs, Because Friday

WARNING_CUTE_PREHey folks, I’ve scoured the interwebs today looking for a video for today’s Video Fridays installment, and I couldn’t find anything better than this.

Ironically, it’s my shortest ever Video Fridays installment, but when you’ve got guinea pigs acting this painfully cute, you have to think of the consequences of this level of cuteness lasting more than 31 seconds.

Could anyone really withstand any more of this without rushing out and finding a guinea pig and taking one home?

And if that happens in numbers that I suspect it would, pet stores could very well find themselves completely wiped out of guinea pig inventory during holiday season.

So, here it is, 31 seconds of cuteness.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Tweet of the Day: #MontyPython

monty-python-grailI’m a HUGE Monty Python fan, and especially a fan of their 1975 film Monty Python & The Holy Grail, as I mentioned in a post this past June.

Today’s Tweet of the Day installment, for obvious reasons then, totally cracked me up!

It reminds me of all those brilliant fake letters from disgruntled viewers interspersed between skits in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series, and truly reads like it was written by the Pythons themselves.

LOL!

Springsteen, The River, And The Mixed Legacy Of Pop Music

bruce_springsteen_tiesSo, I’ve been listening, on Spotify, to the just-released box set of Bruce Springsteen‘s 1980 double studio album The River, titled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, which includes the remastered original album, the shorter single album version that was almost released instead of the double album, a bunch of outtakes, and…

…it’s really a mixed bag.

There is undeniable explosive energy in many of these songs, some of the lyrics are as good as anything Springsteen wrote before or since, and the musicianship is solid, the product of indisputable talent.

And yet…

The most persistent impression I got as I listened was that Springsteen was reaching for a sound reminiscent of early Rock & Roll from the 1950s, with a touch of Phil Spector’s early 1960s Wall of Sound studio approach, and I think it’s important to note that Rock & Roll, during that period, still had one foot in the often cheesy pop music that it grew out of.

There are two elements, in particular, that stand out to me, one related to the studio production, and the other to specific instruments.

First, the studio production, the most pervasive element, affecting every single song on the record. The best way I can describe it is that the album sounds incredibly thin, even on a good sound system or using good headphones, as if it was playing on those cheap metal speakers they had at old drive-in movies.

And while it may have seemed like a clever homage at the time, it gets old real fast, and it feels inexcusable, given that Springsteen had the very best studios and engineers at his disposal. I found myself wanting less reverb and a lusher mix, with the mids and trebles tamed and the low-mids and bass enhanced.

Second, the single most-noticeable instrumental element that stands out is the way keyboards are used on this album. Not THAT they are used, but HOW they are used, which is to say that they, unfortunately most of the time, DOMINATE and therefore detract.

This is also a tragedy of the studio process, as it turns out, because if you check out on YouTube some of the awesome footage from The River tour, you can hear that, onstage, the keyboards are WAY less forward in the mix, and the guitars and the bass, fortunately, stand out, giving the songs more bottom end and an edgier power, as opposed to the bubble gum sheen that the keyboards gave to the same songs on the album.

There’s no better example of this than the song Ramrod.

Here’s the cheesy studio version:

And here’s a live version from the tour:

If Springsteen released a live album from The River tour that had all of the songs from The River on it … well … I’m not saying it would be as great as his first four albums, but it would sound like it belonged in their ranks.

SO many of my favorite rock musicians were inspired by early Rock & Roll and give credit where credit is due, to artists who blazed a new trail.

But, there is a reason why that early Rock & Roll music sounded SO much better, to me at least, when played by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and other British Invasion bands, and it’s because they either reduced or left out entirely the cheesy pop elements and they rocked the shit out of the songs.

The War On (Dominant) White Culture

Anti-White-Racism-530px1As I mentioned last week, and the week before, there was an incident at my place of employment, Western Washington University (WWU, Western) that has stirred up racial tensions, an incident that made national news, an incident not all that dissimilar to the national news coming from Yale University and the University of Missouri and other institutions of higher education.

Consequently, I’ve been having a LOT of discussions on this topic with people — co-workers, friends, family, casual acquaintances — and while I might share a considerable amount of perspective, opinion, values, beliefs, etc. with these people on a wide variety of topics, some comments coming from them diverged sharply from how I see things, and they helped me zero in on what I see as a key element in the current racial conflict dynamic.

One friend said:

I don’t see an Anglo Christian culture surviving in the USA in the 21st century. It already is in the past.

We are all human but keep in mind humans are clannish, and that’s why all groups tend to take sides on race and religion. People will consciously or subconsciously fight to preserve their clan. Our human nature guarantees it.

In June 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that white people will be outnumbered in this country by all non-white people combined by 2043.

This fact terrifies a lot of white people. My friend says its human nature, I disagree, but that’s a whole other Pandora’s Box that I don’t have time to open now.

We used to take pride in our Statue of Liberty, and the message inscribed upon it:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Now? Not so much. Not if it means that white people will be outnumbered!

Of course, most white people will not come right out and say that America was founded by whites and therefore it is a white culture, with an inherent right to remain the dominant culture in the country.

But, some people will.

At my alma mater, Rutgers University, a White Student Union Facebook page has recently been set up by some students with anonymous Facebook accounts, something that has happened at 30+ other universities across the country.

What’s SO telling in the article is the statement from the anonymous students who set up the page, which can easily be divided into reasonable statements and paranoid delusional statements.

I’ve put the reasonable part in bold:

“Everyday our culture is taken from us under names such as ‘diversity’ or ‘privilege,'” they said in an email.”… We wish to provide an intellectual environment from which white students and allies may learn about their rich and beautiful culture, history and society. This too is slowly being taken from us.”

Listen…

NO ONE IS TAKING WHITE CULTURE AWAY FROM WHITE PEOPLE.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture.

However, white people have no constitutional or moral right to be the dominant culture, to force their culture on non-white people or demand that non-whites assimilate and adopt white culture.

The only way to remain the dominant culture is through asserting superiority, or some kind of privilege to remain dominant, without regard for the majority, by doing so aggressively and oppressively — think South Africa, where whites were only 20% of the population and yet owned 80% of the land and an even greater percentage of wealth, and resorted to Apartheid to keep it that way.

There is no War on White Culture, but…

…white people do need to let go of being the dominant culture.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture, like, let’s say, the men dancing in this video.