We are complex and contradictory beings and more often than not it is impossible to figure out why we like this but not that, why we are drawn to one person but not another, or why we love that painting but not this one. I realize that I am not consistent in my likes and dislikes and I mostly couldn’t tell you why. Take meter and rhythm, for example.

I read the poet Louise Glück wrote that poetry is autobiography stripped of context and commentary. That statement made me think about poetry and about writing in general. The thing is, I do like context and commentary.

I have tried my hand at poetry many many times and have come to the conclusion that I am not good at it. I do enjoy a variety of poetry, from Basho to Pablo Naruda and Saul Williams, but there is something about it that alludes me. Perhaps my thinking is too linear for the jumps a good poet must make. I walk and a poet jumps. I steadily cover a distance and they touch the ground here and there like a dancer or like an astronaut in a low gravity environment. My mind does frequently jump the tracks and discover its own tangents, but clearly they are not the kind of tangents a poet arrives at.

Thinking about my music I notice that much of it is linear. The rhythm steadily moves forward, the verses and choruses are generally well defined. There are exceptions, of course. The album One Guitar for example, owing to the fact that much of the music was improvised. It was quite liberating for me not to adhere to a rhythm or to change the rhythm or tempo at will. There was no band I listened to and had to be in rhythm with. On the other hand, when I do play with the band, live and on recordings, my melodies often move against the tempo of the rhythm. I will run the melody ahead of the rhythm, or lag behind it, only to join up a few beats later.

The meter of poetry is its rhythm. I have never been fond of poetry with a very strict rhythm preferring poetry that is free from that. I enjoy reading haiku and marvel at the many different ways each of Basho’s haiku can be translated.

So why do I like rhythm in music and am not fond of meter in poetry? I do not know.

Last night I read Open City by Teju Cole. His protagonist writes that St. Augustine was astonished by St. Ambrose, who had found a way to read without sounding out the words. He continues that we have been taught that the sight of a man speaking to himself is a sign of eccentricity or madness.

I thought about WHY poems have meter and rhyming. The rhythm and rhyme (those two words are so obviously connected because they both start with “RH” – how many other words start with those two letters??) of poetry was an aid to remembering the text. It was part of an oral tradition. In order to give such poetry a fair chance I shouldn’t read them. I must listen to them. Perhaps I can discover their beauty through that.

Thoughts about Recycling

I have been thinking about recycling and big box stores and how the two stories are intertwined. I remembered how I bought vegetables when I lived in Boston in the early 80s. In the morning I would walk to the Greek’s produce store with a bag in hand. He would show me what was fresh that day and sometimes he would explain how to cook a vegetable. He would hand me the vegetables and I would put them in my bag and carry them to my loft. Once or twice I forgot to bring money and he would tell me I could pay him the next day. This process was labor and knowledge intensive. The Greek knew his produce and did all of the work in the store.

Along came the box stores (in the 70s?) and I remember my dad getting excited about the price of something that was in a big store across the city and driving there. These big stores were only possible because of plastic. Food was pre-packaged – weighed, and wrapped in plastic. The stores saved a ton of money by not having to hire knowledgable employees. The jobs became more menial: move stuff onto the floor or work as a cashier. The knowledge requirement was offloaded to the customer. If I didn’t know a vegetable – and there were plenty of veggies I had not seen before – I would ask the Greek and he would explain them to me. If I encounter a vegetable in a big box store I am on my own. (that is another way the internet helped the big stores – now you can look up what you don’t know… but the knowledge problem is still offloaded to the customer)

What was also offloaded was packaging. In the Seventies and Eighties nobody cared about plastic waste. At some point we started recycling – which today is still very limited and only takes care of a tiny amount of the packaging we encounter every day – and that recycling is totally left to the consumer, who can choose not to recycle at all. (recycling can be such a drag – Santa Fe stopped picking up glass a few years ago and I had to drive boxes of bottles to the Buckman Road Recycling Center every few weeks)

I think this is fundamentally wrong. The producer or seller of goods must be made responsible for the packaging they are using. This packaging is the reason the stores make so much money because it eliminates employees and it makes it possible to move very large volume. Ideally the store will change their packaging OR will take back and recycle their own packaging. This would be easy: go to the store with the old packaging and leave with new goods. The stores make such great profit exactly BECAUSE recycling is offloaded to society. It became the responsibility of customers and was paid for, at least in part, by taxes.

The latest step in the big box store development is to employ even less people and make the customer check themselves out. It lowers the price of goods, brings more sales volume, and in turn makes more money for the stockholders.

Perhaps it is the hunter-gatherer in us, but it appears to be very hard for us to turn a deal down. If we can get a vegetable cheaper in a big store we get excited by the savings. Look at that gigantic plastic tub of spinach at Costco! It is less than half of the price of the same amount of spinach at the Coop or the farmers market. Never mind that plastic is choking the oceans, never mind that big box stores employ fewer and fewer people.

We have several different waves colliding here. There is less meaningful work available – the Greek seemed to love his job – and there are fewer stores that survive. People get paid less and therefore NEED the cheaper goods at the big box stores. It’s a circle, a downwards spiral.

Let me know in the comments whether what I wrote rings true for you and if you have an idea how to change for the better.

Glass + Instagram

This post about Glass by John Gruber led to this interview of the founders of Glass by Om Malik, which led to this post about leaving Facebook, which led to some reflection and finally a decision.

I am no longer serving the Zuck’s empire and have signed up at Glass. I think Glass will be at least the fourth photo sharing site I have joined in the last couple of decades. I definitely have good memories of Flickr, which was great before Yahoo bought it. Onward.

One of the many last straws was that Instagram claimed I had a Facebook account. That could only mean that even somebody at Facebook mistook one of the several Ottmar Liebert imposter accounts for a real Ottmar account.

New rule: a good account has the option to delete it on the first settings page – something Glass does have and Instagram of course does not.

A Few Rules

The biggest problems with becoming successful in any form of art are the following:
You receive a huge amount of encouragement to repeat yourself, whereas what inspired you in the first place was the discovery of something new.
(Rule: welcome encouragement, and then try to ignore it)

Everyone wants you to be involved in everything, and you find all your time filled with doing things that aren’t exactly what you felt like doing.
(Rule: when invited to do something in the future, ask yourself if you would do it right now)

You no longer have time to actually do anything anyway because you’re constantly doing interviews about what you did in the past.
(Rule: block out days in your diary and FIGHT to keep them free. Leave the phone at home, tell your friends you’re on holiday)

Your life is filled with gadgets because you can afford them.
(Rule: every object takes up your time. Ask yourself what it gives you in return)

Options multiply: you do a lot of things
(Rule: Do fewer things better)

– Brian Eno (July 21, 2011) from here?

A lot of these rules hold true a decade later. The first case is forever true, whether you are a musician or a painter or a poet. Once some people like your work, and especially once people have invested something in you (record companies, galleries) they want you to do only very small variations on the theme. It is tempting to give them what they want, but this can also kill you. Some people do it well and with no ill effect, but others suffer. (Basquiat?) The secret of longevity, I think, is for the artist to aim for a sweet spot where they are making enough changes to their work to keep themselves engaged and excited while not making too many changes and losing their audience.

The last two rules we can mash together and contemplate together:
Every object takes up your time. Ask yourself what it gives you in return.
For me that connects with the last rule:
Do fewer things better.

Every object takes time to learn how to use properly. Do fewer things better.