Infographic: What We Do With Our Time

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Sharing the Magic

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

There is a particular relationship skill I’ve always wondered at.

I’ve called it, before, “Sharing the Magic”, for lack of a better term: a couple’s ability to actually enjoy each other’s company while focused on something else. The ability to share and enjoy *things* together, to share happiness together, as opposed to just gazing at each other all day.

This is to some degree an abbreviated version of my relationship history.

This would be my first boyfriend.

This would be someone else, some time later.

This would be my most recent relationship:

I thought for a long time there was something wrong with me. That maybe I’m selfish in wandering off so quickly to see every new shiny thing. One ex once said, “You’re so CURIOUS…” and he actually meant this as a bad thing.

What I finally came to, is that I’m okay with myself the way I am. I like being who I am.

I’m free to wander off to look at the stars, check out wandering street musicians, and look at the flowers. If I’m by myself, I can still “share the magic”. I can take pictures of things I see and post them and share them with my friends. I can tell people about things I’ve seen, draw things I see, or take pictures.

I am free to be myself and to be happy.

Maybe some day someone else will come along, but if they do, I’d like them to happy, too, and be happy with me.

I have one last drawing I wanted to do, but instead of draw it, I’ll tell you what it was: two people – not looking *at each other*, but at the road ahead. Taking turns showing each other things. One pulls one off in one direction, then another pulls another off.

I think from afar, it would look like they were dancing.

Stage Magic and the Artistic Process

   In the 2008 New Yorker article “The Real Work”, author Adam Gopnik takes us on a tour behind the scenes of the stage magician’s craft. We learn several things about magic, such as the training and preparation that go into what must ultimately look like an effortless display, and most importantly, we learn that magic is an artform of outwitting the audience. Magicians have names for their techniques, a language which is known to other magicians, filled with terms such as the “Miser’s Dilemma” and “the shift” – but this technical jargon is not known, for the most part, to the spectators. The spectators see only the craft and its execution. Knowing the technique would ruin the illusion. Magicians master the art of making their illusions look “casual” to the spectator.

In this, there is much to the practice of any art form that resembles stage magic. When one opens up a magazine or browses a website and sees the beautiful, accessible material within, they do not see the graphic designer’s actual process: ideally, the finished product looks effortless. When I’ve finished a piece for a client and it hits production, the end viewer will not see the preparation, planning, and thinking that goes into my work nor will they see all the failed attempts nor will they see the “comps” (comprehensive layouts) that were exchanged between me and my client; they certainly will not see the time I’ve spent training at design principles, art technique and computer software. The end viewer can’t see this process any more than a magician can reveal his tricks; it would ruin the illusion and distract from the information that I am presenting. They will see the InDesign template I used or the photo editing I did; the best typeface selection is that which doesn’t call attention to the fact that I’m using a typeface but instead communicates the message my client wants to get across.

Ceramic art, like graphic design and any other artform, also has much in common with the practice of stage magic.

First of all, there is “natural handling” – the practice of “making every move look casual rather than ‘presentational’,” as described by the article. In the case of ceramics, the “spectator” (the person who is viewing the end result, in this case) is not seeing the tens to hundreds of pots and pieces that necessarily preceded the work they are viewing, using, or holding. They are not seeing the mistakes or kiln “blow outs” or the times that the artist gave up and put his or her creation back into the lump of clay from which it emerged, they’re not seeing the time it took for the artist to learn to properly work with the clay. Ceramics is an art of process as much as end result, like magic; the artist practices endlessly so that the end result can look unpracticed and casual and so that the arduous, often tedious process is not experienced by the end viewer.

Gopnik goes on to tell us that “all grownup craft depends upon sustaining a frozen moment from childhood”. This is especially true in an artform which depends upon tactile manipulation as well as exploration and play. Any artist must engage his or her medium with a large spirit of exploration and experimentation, and in any artform, this exploration is the difference between art and repetitive replication of the same material over and over. In order to remain engaged with my medium, I find I must retain that childlike sense of wonder and experiment with different tactile properties and techniques.

Finally, most importantly, Gopnik tells us about the “Too Perfect” theory of magic: when an illusion becomes too improbable or astounding, the spectator loses the willing suspension of disbelief. “What makes a trick work is not the inherent astoundingness of its effect but the magician’s ability suggest any number of possible explanations, none of them conclusive, and none of them quite obvious,” he informs us. I find this true in working with the “organic”, imperfect forms that I love, and in the Japanese “wabi sabi” aesthetic of perfection in imperfection. Hours upon hours of labor and many scrapped mistakes go into making a single item which looks “imperfect” and “unstudied” and in fact there is a tremendous amount of study involved. One must still create an object which survives the firing process and holds up to everyday use, and there is the natural tendency for the objects to become smoother and more “perfect” as one works, so in the end, an “organic” and imperfect look (while still being well executed) can actually be quite painstaking. Balancing the intentional and the unintentional is a tricky prospect.

What distinguishes it from other artforms is that in ceramic art, the artist is able to create functional objects of day to day living, and thusly, engages with the spectator in a way that is personal and intimate: the artist has the capacity for entering the spectator’s everyday life in a way that other artforms don’t approach, and thus, the spectator is not merely a spectator but a participant in the artistic process, engaged in a direct conversation with the artist. Like stage magic, it requires empathy and anticipation of what the experiencer will be experiencing via the ceramist’s craft. It is an act of illusion to place a cup or bowl into someone’s hand and give them the experience of the thing without involving them in the process itself.

 

 

Guest Post: Thoughts About “Cool”

This is a guest post by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Enjoy!

This is quite possibly the silliest, most vacuous thing about hipster-bashing I’ve ever read.

Which is impressive really, because ‘hipster’ is a pretty vacuous concept. It’s hard to pin down, like ‘cool’ is hard to pin down. But what annoys me about things like this is that she talks about hipsters, and by extension, coolness, as if it’s a real thing that’s really important.

I’ve done my share of thinking about coolness, and I’ve come to a conclusion. Coolness is having made the right consumer choices, as defined by a particular peer group. Any peer group. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the peer group you’re hoping will think you’re cool.

See, I own a couple of Star Trek tee-shirts. Among most people, probably not cool at all. Among some other people, perhaps cool in a ‘nerd is in’ or ‘ironic’ way. At a sci-fi convention? Cool, but nowhere as cool as that shirt from ThinkGeek.

I however, love them both.

See, I don’t like the idea of having to subject my tastes to anyone’s approval. I have both Led Zeppelin and Lady Gaga on my iPod. I also have Corvus Corvax. Chances are you’ve heard both of former, but not the latter. There are definitely people in the world who will think less of you depending on what’s on your iPod or your bookshelf. They’ll disdain the sorts of people who will think less of you for the labels you have on your clothing, but no matter. The people who will disdain you for the labels on your clothing will run screaming at what’s on your iPod or your bookshelf. Perhaps they’ll even run screaming at the fact of how overloaded your bookshelf is.

I think it’s a fallacy to think that your personal tastes are somehow indicative of anything about you but your personal tastes, and to some extent, what you’ve been exposed to. I don’t own any zydeco because I don’t know anything about zydeco and I’ve never been curious enough about zydeco to find out more about it. Maybe I should though, since “zydeco” is kind of a nifty sounding word. It seriously doesn’t mean anything about me that I like both some Led Zeppelin songs and some Lady Gaga songs, or that I like Star Trek. Oh, but the last one stung, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d like to think my Star Trek shirts meant something, but honestly, what do they really mean? Mostly that Star Trek is a comfort food of a TV show for me, because my oldest brother sat me down and made me watch it at the age of twelve, and I remember that fondly as one of the notable times in my childhood that someone was actually interested in getting to know me. What, you think I watch it for the quaint, retrograde portrayal of gender roles?

Which brings me back to hipster-bashing. Oh sure, maybe a few people bash hipsters because they’re just meanies who always resented the cool kids and the fun good times they always seemed to be having, but I don’t think they’re even close to the majority. I think most people bash hipsters not so much because of anything about hipsters themselves, but more the very idea of ‘hip.’ Hipsters are simply the latest group of people to come along and deliberately try to be cool in public. People who think they’re the greatest because they knew about that obscure band before they become famous? Trust me, those types have been around long before the current hipster phenomenon. People who feel a need to loudly proclaim a particular identity through distinctive fashion? Hello, welcome to the goth scene. Leave your suntan at the door.

The thing is though, after a certain point in life, most people can’t really sustain that kind of lifestyle, even if they were ever living it at all. And so they become ‘uncool.’ And then a funny thing happens. They discover that they’re still people with a valid point of view, and that life really isn’t so bad. And hey, what do you know, there’s freedom here. Freedom to listen to whatever you like without worrying about what your friends will think about it. Freedom to wear sweatpants in public, just because they’re comfortable. You discover that even when you’re not loudly proclaiming your identity, somehow you’re still a person with real live opinions and everything.

And then you see ‘hipsters,’ or whatever those dang crazy kids are calling it now. And you giggle, because they’re trying so damn hard to be individuals, and it’s hilarious. And really, it’s almost like they’re making fun of themselves, just by existing and taking themselves so damn seriously.

Dating: You’re doing it wrong.

On a couple of my various internet communities, I’ve run across the fact that many, many people just do not know how to date.

It generally goes like this (especially on the part of many straight women).

Expectations

Initiator: “So, do you want to go out sometime?”
Initiatee: “Sure.”
Initiator: “How about if we go get a pizza and see The Avengers on Friday?”
Initiatee: “Sure.”

Reality 

Here is how it more often goes.

Initiator: “So, do you want to go out sometime?”
Initiatee: “Sure.”
Initiator: “Alright, I’ll call you.”
Initiatee: “Sure!”

Initiator never calls and the whole thing falls through the cracks. Initiatee complains that nobody ever wants to date them, that nothing ever happens.

How I do things

I’ve never had a problem with this (I say this as someone who’s been both initiator and initiatee and as someone who’s dated both men and women).

Initiator: “So, do you want to get together sometime?”
Me: “What did you have in mind?”
Initiator: “We could get pizza… or Chinese. Is there a movie you’d like to
see? I haven’t seen The Avengers yet, have you?”
Me: “Pizza sounds great… The Avengers sounds great. When did you have in
mind?”
Initiator: “How about Friday or would Saturday be better for you?”
Me: “Friday is fine, when did you have in mind?”
Initiator: “I can pick you up at six”
Me: “Sounds great!”
Initiator: “It’s a date then!”
Me: “Sounds fun, see you Friday at 6!”

Now, is there anything wrong with doing it like this? 

What planet are we on that you can’t close the deal and or ask a person to clarify what they want?

 If I’m the initiator, then I typically
tend to ask them on a specific date (“do you want to go see ‘The Avengers’ with
me?”) and if they’re the initiator, I tend to ask what they had in mind and
narrow them down and close the time and day.

It’s a natural thing, I don’t give it a lot of thought.

But it seems like a lot of us here have some different ideas of how things should be done; what’s your preference?

Nerd edition: Star Trek II… Prose and Khans

It seems unavoidable that I’m going to blog, at times, on geeky matters.

It’s recently been announced that Benedict Cumberbatch will portray the iconic character Khan Noonian Singh in the next Star Trek movie. No, I am not bothering with spoiler space because it’s already been announced on IMDB and confirmed in the news.

I’m going to ignore the nerd rage for a moment – “should we retread this” – and I’m going to PARTIALLY ignore the social justice issue – “should Khan be played by a white guy” – and look at this from the two sides in my conflicted mind, and finally, address a third issue.

Pro

Let’s consider something Abrams has done with his reimagined Star Trek universe: he’s gone to the meat and marrow of the characters and gotten past the original actors’ portrayal of them, treating the characters as their own literary canon. He treats the characters as another director might treat Shakespearian characters, looking to the source material for reference but not trying to ape any particular actor.

Now, Cumberbatch is an extremely talented actor. He would not be Ricardo Montalban’s Khan… but if the writing and casting of the previous film is to be any indicator, Cumberbatch would be a new vision of Khan, while still remaining true to the essence of who Khan is. Is Khan his muscles and ponytail? In fact, over and over, in Space Seed and in The Wrath of Khan, Khan was treated as a “superior intellect”. Cumberbatch-Khan might be a different sort of Khan – a chess master type of villain. Something we really haven’t seen in Star Trek in a long time.

And why not Khan? The Star Trek films have attempted over and over again to create a Khan style of villain, so why not Khan himself? Every attempt to create a new Khan-clone has taken one single aspect of the character – his physicality, his rage – while ignoring one of the most important things that made the character iconic: his superior intellect.

So, if this is who the new Khan is, I’m fine with that.

Another thing… Khan was a conqueror from an era we already know. We’ve already lived through it. Canonically, he existed in the 1990s. So as much as Montalban’s Khan is iconic, we still can’t get over the fact that the character is now coated in a really thick layer of zeerust.

A more understated, genius, chess master version of Khan – someone good at maneuvering things from behind – would be the only believable revisiting of the character. 

That’s the kind of Khan I imagine when I imagine Cumberbatch in this part. Superior intellect, as opposed to superior pectoral cleavage.

Besides, I am a HUGE fan of understated villains, and the popular culture is already accustomed to different takes on the same characters. We have “Spiderman” vs “Ultimate Spiderman”, for you comics enthusiasts. We have Jack Nicholson’s Joker vs Heath Ledger’s Joker. 

This seems to be what they attempted with Malcolm McDowell’s character, Dr. Soran, in Star Trek: Generations… someone bent on vengeance, but more the understated and brilliant type of character. 

If we’re going to keep ripping off Khan anyway, why not simply write a story about Khan himself? Seeing the character through a new lens, with emphasis on different and canonical aspects of his personality, actually lends a kind of depth to our understanding of him. 

Con

Why is Khan a white guy? Originally they wanted to cast Benecio Del Toro, who backed out of the role. But I see that as a mistake, too. 

The character is Indian. In fact, he’s Sikh. This is not speculation. He is not “someone with a little Indian blood”. He is Indian! There are plenty of Indian actors who could portray him. Perhaps in the sixties, it was justifiable to have him played by Ricardo Montalban, but the same casting choice wouldn’t be justifiable now. 

And the oddness of casting a white Englishman to fill the shoes of a Mexican playing a Punjabi… is what brings me to the third point.

It could be BS.

Has anyone considered this?

Perhaps it’s disinformation.

Abrams’ choice of Cumberbatch as Khan is totally inconsistent with his other casting choices. He hasn’t whitewashed or race-bent the rest of the crew, so why would he do so with Khan? He’s tried to remain remarkably consistent with canon. This would be the first time he hasn’t, so why would he stop now?

Secondly, let’s look at the costumes.

Image

That does not resemble any outfit that Khan wore in Space Seed. The black shirt even has Starfleet insignia.

Furthermore, look at that pasty complexion… Abrams isn’t even trying to make Cumberbatch look remotely Indian. If he’s Khan, he’s not a white guy playing an Indian guy. He’s a white guy playing a white guy with an Indian name!

Here is my thought. My money is on disinformation.

The only supporting evidence of Khan is that Spock is trying to give him the neck pinch, and all he’s doing is making the guy mad. 

So, the man is clearly the product of some kind of genetic engineering, right?

Or wrong?

What if this character’s abilities are enhanced via some other means, rendering him immune to the Vulcan nerve pinch?

Are you as geeky as I am?

If you are, you are thinking what I’m thinking, right?

My money is on Gary Mitchell.

He will never marry you.

He will never marry you… Here is how I know.

He will not marry you because you are unsure. And when you meet the one who will, you will not be unsure. Maybe you wont know. But you won’t NOT know.

You will not call me wondering if you should break it off. Analyzing what he means. Because you know what he means.

You will not stay up all night with a pit in your stomach wondering what he is doing. If he is thinking about you.

You will not break up. And get back together. And break up again. And be back together.

One day you -will- get married.

I will find out that you were engaged or married via your pictures in the life and culture section of the paper. Or Facebook. Or something like that.

You will have been too busy getting married to call me to ask me if I thought he would ever marry you.

You may have been too busy marrying him – from the moment your steps seemed to fall into place together, to the private jokes you shared, to the accidental touch of your hands in the box of popcorn. To the wordless agreement that you would watch his dog while he was with his sick mother and the fact that he never had to ask and that you never, ever had to wonder if he would do the same for you.

You were busy marrying him when he unexpectedly paid the remainder of your rent but did not tell you yet that he had been laid off from his job, and you were marrying him when you found out he’d lost that job, so made a date of television, a bottle of cheap wine and a pot of spaghetti.

You were marrying him when you made love to him because you wanted to. Not because it would hold him to you. Not because he expected it.

You were too busy marrying him to call me, or to update your Facebook, or to blog, when he showed up to drive you to the doctor when you were sick but your car broke down.

You will not call me to ask me if you will ever marry him, because you have already been too busy marrying him. And one day, I will hear from you. It will be when you invite me to your wedding, if we are close. Or when I read your status update on Facebook, if we are not that close. And I will look at your pictures, and tell you that you are a beautiful bride, and smile at how happy the two of you look.

I will smile at how beautiful it is, your wedding on the courthouse steps in the simple off-the-rack pink dress from Nordstrom’s, that you made do with because you were too busy marrying him and forgot to plan a wedding.

And I will smile quietly to myself.

Because I already knew you would marry him.

Here is how.

You called me one time. One time, and one time only. You called to panic because you did not know whether you would see this one again.

After all. He is a little too boring. A little too bald. A little too short, or a little too fat.

The pit in your stomach is not there, the constant ache.

And you don’t know how to live without that emptiness, that gnawing.

I will hear from you that time, and that time only, if I hear from you at all.

And that is how I know he will be the one for you.

So for now –

If you are to call and ask me if the man you are seeing will ever marry you – he will not. If you post sad posts on Facebook wondering what is going on or if you should get back together or you wonder what he is thinking – he will not. If you make love but it holds the slightest tinge of worry and regret – he will not.

I am sorry.

I can promise though that perhaps… One day in the near future… You will love, and be loved.

And it will be another.

 

 

 

* This has circulated a little bit – I wrote it last year. I’m the original author.

Are you a shark or a leech?

I’ve observed that our culture has certain stereotypes of women and men – women as being latchy and manipulative and parasitic and opportunistic and exploitative (like a tapeworm), and men as being aggressive and predatory (like a shark).

I hate these stereotypes. I invariably run into them whenever I’m among any group of single people of any orientation and gender. Gynophiles of either gender are on guard against being parasitized by those needy, latchy women who will move into their house, keep them up all night talking, and spend up their credit cards. If you’re a straight(ish) man who has been around the block a bit, you might be on guard against women wanting to marry you as quickly as possible, spend your money, and have the babies that you will have to support but never get to see. Or so sayeth the Internet. If you are a gay(ish) woman, then you might be concerned about the “U-Haul Lesbian” stereotype and that the woman who came home with you from the company Christmas party… might take two years to get rid of.

Androphiles of either gender are on guard against being predated upon, consumed, digested, then shat out; the predator will then find other prey to consume. Straight(ish) women and gay(ish) men alike despair that they’ll never find love and tenderness, and fear that men only want “one thing”… and then to move on as quickly as possible.

Mind you, I am speaking in stereotypes… but I feel I’m expressing the fear and dread that many singles have, and how unflattering gender stereotypes play into this fear.

The worst part is that the stereotypes are not equally perjorative. Sports teams do not call themselves the “Fighting Leeches” but wolves, tigers, sharks, and other predators adorn their banners. Nobody wants to be predated upon, but there’s still a certain glamor to being a predator.

Both predators and parasites consume others, but predators consume from the outside. Parasites get inside the body and consume you from within.

Women’s dating books tend to try to show women how to avoid being predated upon while also convincing the other party that they are not a parasite. Trouble is, as a woman, you’re already seen as a parasite. You can’t gain prestige in the scenario when you never had any to start with; as soon as you said “yes” to the date, the other party may have already assumed that you were likely to want to move in with them and have their babies by the third date, and may have lots of rules to keep them from getting parasitized.

Furthermore, there’s some degree to which there is the meta-message that women are opportunistic; it’s thought that we take what we can then cash out our chips to go off and have babies, as if we’re just there – on the job, in a relationship – for whatever resources we can extract, without actually contributing anything to the body we’re parasitizing.

It’s all very ugly – but the thing is – of the two – the “parasite” image is actually far, far less flattering. It’s hard for me to look myself in the mirror if I have to think of myself as a parasite.

Predators tend to take a certain pride in being predators, and we tend to admire them for being strong and goal oriented, even as we cringe at the bodies that drop around them…

But who wants to be a parasite?

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Sex Geeks

ImageLiam Neeson as Dr. Alfred Kinsey, in the film Kinsey. A favorite film of many “sex geeks”, who may use it as a jumping-off point for discussing the impact of the Kinsey Report upon American society… but Kinsey
himself may or may not have been one.

This is one of the most divisive topics among the people I know, which is why I started using the term “Sex Geek” to define a specific set of interests.

A “Sex Geek” is someone who is interested in sexuality, gender roles, and gender relations in a social, anthropological, scientific, political, and/or cultural context.

This does not include an interest in sexual techniques or behavior nor does it say anything about the particular Sex Geek’s relationship to sex positive feminism or anything of the like.

The distinction needs to be made because there is a tendency, I’ve discovered, to confuse sexuality – as an academic, psychological, political, cultural, or scientific “thing” – with eroticism and or sexual behavior. Some people have expressed to me in the past that any discussion of the former is only done by immodest people, or lonely people. There needs to be a term so that the topic can be discussed as a kind of meta-discourse.

Discussing the political ramifications of the Pill, the implications of cosplaying Princess Leia’s slave costume, or the impact of pornography upon society… is not the same as discussing one’s personal behavior.

They are not the same.

They are not the same.

They are not the same.

Also, while “Sex Geekery” is a common discussion in many circles (such as social justice and or feminist circles), it shouldn’t be confused with those. Many, many feminists and social justice enthusiasts are Sex Geeks but not all Sex Geeks are feminists or social justice enthusiasts. Sex Geeks may even be asexual or celibate or have religious vows. They just have an interest in the role of sexuality and gender across many academic and cultural disciplines.

Sex Geeks.

Let the term be known. Let it be known far and wide.

Introducing the Non-Player Character.

The Non-Player Character, in the world of role playing games, is a character who is controlled by the game master or one or more players for the purposes of furthering the plot, but who is (most often) not portrayed with their own agency.

They are basically a “placeholder” that fits the needs of the other characters, or of the plot.

I’m going to expand the definition a bit, because I think it is a useful metaphor.

Many of us approach the other people in our lives as NPCs.

Here is a rather horrifying and creepy story that I came across, from “Controlling People” by Patricia Evans, that illustrates one such relationship between a “game master” and their “NPC” as it might play out in real life:

The Teddy Illusion

What is fascinating to me about some portrayals in the media of women who are excessively adorable but lack inner life or agency (I’ll elaborate on this later because I have my own interpretation and take on the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” stock character) is how they are basically serving the purpose of being an NPC to the main character and to some degree, the “adorableness” may be perceived via an unreliable narrator who really does not know his love interest’s inner life. He has to idealize her via what little he does know – her various quirks and her music preferences.

You also frequently see this portrayal of the male costar in a “chick flick”; he doesn’t really exist outside of the female character’s mind. In fact, I’d love to see a film that actually played with this concept and subverted it (he in fact DOESN’T exist outside of her mind).

The thing is, we act out these dramas in real life. Many of us never get past seeing other people as NPCs.

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