Terrance Coffman’s book Van Gogh’s Missing Journals is a fascinating work that sweeps readers back to the late 1800’s through Van Gogh’s eye’s. The text introduces us to the gritty lifestyle of the farmers, preachers, miners and artists surrounding Van Gogh. The author is faithful to the facts of Van Gogh’s life, but uses the journal format to invent Vincent’s interior thoughts. I found the work compelling because Coffman, who is also an artist, is able use his own experiences to build a convincing narrative. Coffman draws a clear portrait of of the personalities of Van Gogh’s friends and family. The book takes us to a time when when Van Gogh is not only obscure but also a failure in art, work and love. Coffman’s text depicts the hard realities of mental illness in Van Gogh’s life. Vincent was also haunted by a stillborn older brother whose name he shared, but the shadows are tempered by tender images of Theo’s love and support as well as Van Gogh’s passion and commitment to his ideals, and art. I was fascinated with accounts of Vincent’s pleasures such as reading (Dickens, the bible…), drinking (absinthe, wine…)and club life (the Moulin Rouge,brothels…). My reading of the book was enriched by frequently stopping to look up particular paintings or checking what Van Gogh had written to Theo on a particular date. This book is a chance to see the struggles of a great artist in the making.
Last night I had a moment of clarity regarding old media and new media. I was listening to Terry Gross on fresh air, who was interviewing retiring NPR commentator Robert Siegel1. I had listened to his voice since childhood and as an adult I had come to trust and rely heavily on reporting from NPR. That feeling of long held trust was quite a contrast to my response to a piece of reporting I has heard on All Things Considered earlier in the evening. In that story a reporter was attributing the huge number of bonus checks being distributed by Comcast and AT&T to the recently passed tax changes2. While the tax plan may have been a factor, these two companies mentioned are the beneficiaries of an even more lucrative handout from the government as a result of the recent repeal of net neutrality rules. The fact that NPR omitted mention of net neutrality in a story that highlights the celebrations of two central figures in that fight was alarming. One might hope that NPR would have been leading the charge on informing the public of the net neutrality debate. While the typical NPR format of presenting two sides of an issue has been tweaked a bit recently to remind listeners that lies regularly emanate from the White House, the format still has reporters parrot talking points such as “sweeping regulations3”, that do little to shed light on complicated issues. The use of satire found in new media outlets is a more effective tool in exposing fraud when the political discourse goes off the rails. In his interview Robert Siegel mentioned comedian John Oliver by name as someone who really did well researched reporting breaking open the issue of net neutrality4.
The takeaway for me is that learning the whole story cannot be as easy as turning on the radio and listening to a trusted voice. As much as I have loyalty and warm feelings tied to Public Radio, I will definitely need to reflect on what is being said and probably need to dig to see other useful perspectives. The kicker is that loss of net neutrality could make finding other perspectives more difficult. The simplification of a narrative for the sake of fitting it into a news time slot has made me deeply skeptical. I wonder what other stories have or will be distorted by skimming over the facts.
UPDATE: On 12/14/17 the FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality.
In the near future, the internet could experience a fundamental shift away from the free flow of information, towards a system that requires payment to participate. While not an overt form of censorship, it has the potential to push many valuable artistic ideas out of the mainstream. For many talented artists who have undergone the torments of wallowing in obscurity, the deficits of such a system are self evident.
Under the current system, the humble website of a regional artist will load just as fast as any other page on the web. However, if net neutrality rules are suspended, the web will become skewed towards large content providers. Up until now, regulations have ensured that internet service providers (ISPs) provide the same speed of service to every website. Thus, net neutrality created a level playing field for large and small content providers. The rewritten rules will permit priority service for some websites and slow the performance of other sites with artificial bottlenecks.
It is expected that ISPs will reformulate their business model to take advantage of the lax regulation. The first change would likely be to pressure video streaming services such as Netflix or Youtube to pay for speedy content delivery. This will result in higher fees and more advertisements as well as less bandwidth for small websites.
In a best case scenario this proposal will be rejected. If that fails and the ISPs gain the ability to throttle speeds at will, one could hope that this becomes a battle of titans where little folks would remain unaffected. Perhaps even at reduced speeds the slim files that compose an artist’s website will load in a time reasonable to impatient visitors.
In the worst case scenario, a plethora of ills could spill from this pandora’s box. ISPs could approach artists to request fees to deliver content at high speeds. Artists already encounters shakedowns on platforms such as Facebook which solicit money to “promote this post.” In addition, shady operators might cash in on the public’s uncertainty to promise solutions while delivering only snake oil. Lack of net neutrality could also accelerate an existing trend towards an aesthetic shaped by what is most likely to draw a click. While not really a unified artistic school of thought, the web seems to celebrate art that is bizarrely fascinating as well as reward artists creating work linked to a popular figure or rising trend. In a tiered system, the click-worthy art would likely be put in the fast lane of the internet, while works of more subtle beauty would populate the back alleys. Artists who have long chafed at the power of artistic elites, may find themselves facing a whole new set of decision makers passing judgement on what gets seen and what is neglected.
A number of factors have lead to this proposal. The internet’s value as a place to share ideas has been under appreciated and is being overrun by the desires of commerce. Opponents of net neutrality frame the issue as removing excess government regulation. This idea is really just legislation catering to companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon who stand to profit enormously and whose push to make this happen make them the second largest lobby in congress. The current FCC chair, Adjit Pai, is a former Verizon lawyer who has the interests of ISPs close to heart. When the FCC collected comments online, the process was marred by a flood of millions of comments automatically submitted by bots in opposition to net neutrality.1
On the other side there has been a strong push to preserve net neutrality. Analysis of online comments collected by the FCC show that of those comments, ones posted by actual humans showcased an overwhelming support for net neutrality.2 Supporters of preserving a level playing field on the internet have framed the issue in a variety of ways. Some tech giants such as Amazon, Netflix, and Google see it as bad for business or a distortion of their vision of the internet. Other social justice-oriented groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace take principled stances based on free speech. Late night comedian John Oliver takes jabs at the underhanded moves of companies that can’t even be trusted to keep their promise to show up and install cable.3 While these diverse perspectives are all valid, a critical population has remained largely silent: artists.
A decision is expected at the mid-December meeting of the FCC. Some groups circulate petitions and others advocate contacting your representative in congress. For those who wish to have their voice heard in this matter, contact members of the FCC board4as well as members of congress5 with a brief polite letter or email.
An internet dominated by those who have the money to spread their content is likely to become uniform and stale. There is no guarantee that creativity or bright ideas will flourish if they are consigned to a slow speed internet ghetto.
Since I was young I have been fascinated by miniatures. This new mini garden has a mountain, river and small village contained within a 3’ diameter.
Last year when someone left the stand for an outdoor fire pit on the curb, it started me thinking about how to convert it to something useful. I combined the stand with 2” styrofoam insulation, cut up pieces of electric go-kart, rubber roof material, miniature houses and gutter mesh. The styrofoam was a base upon which I sculpted terrain out of cut up pieces of go-kart. In order for the river to hold water, I cut the roof membrane to cut through the middle of the garden. The gutter mesh is screwed to the terrain to help hold soil in place. Since the gutter mesh is not that wide, I stitched pieces of it together with electrical wire. The houses fit though holes cut in the mesh.
I have planted mostly succulent plants and moss as I wanted the growth to hug the terrain and not overwhelm the scale of the houses. I added some slate to make a mini path to the houses. I will be interesting to see how the plantings mature as the season progresses. This afternoon there were heavy rains which should be helpful for the plants although I got soaked through and through as I was riding home on my bike.
This bike is a 1974 Raleigh International. It was my father’s bike for many years when he commuted to work. It has been handed down to me and I am looking for someone who would be interested in a classic. At the time it was considered a high end professional/racing bike. I have seen these in remarkably pristine condition selling on ebay for three or four times what I am asking. I cannot imagine how you could own one and not want to ride the hell out of it, but I suppose if you have kept yours in a garage since 1974 you can ask more for it than I am. As you can see from the photos this one has a good patina to it. Most of it is original. You can probably guess what has been replaced (rims, tires, brake pads, brake and shift cables, chain, seat, handlebar tape ) Originally it had toe clips… I may have them around somewhere, but the original leather straps did not make it. I do not have the original Brooks seat. At the time I thought it was kind of uncomfortable, but I hear it is an acquired taste. If I had that to do over, maybe I would have tried it longer. It is still light as a feather and in rideable condition, however a lot could be done to make it more smooth and polished.
My first inclination is to hang on to the bike. It is a classic and has a lot of great memories. I might ride it now and again if I hung onto it. On the other hand I would probably just stuff it away in some corner of the basement where it would be neglected and gather dust. I would rather someone else ride it. I have two other bikes and am considering building a third.
If you would like to time travel to 1974 in style this is the bike for you.
Contact me at email@example.com Shoot me an offer or maybe you have something interesting to trade. The bike is now sold!
This 20 minute film documents the liturgical dance program at University United Methodist Church.
In the Fall of 2012, I was digging (and saving)1 at our local thrift shop when a small cabinet caught my eye. I used it to make the Little Library that is planted in front of our home. Since the library is a few steps from my door, it is easy to stop and tinker with it. I often find myself wondering what I should do next. Usually there is some object that speaks to me and says, “I was built for a, b or c function, but my real purpose in life is to serve as x, y or z part of the library.” Over the last few years, I let my imagination carry me where it will, and so I added the museum, bulletin boards, Lincoln Logs, solar lighting, magnetic poetry, etc. It is a little out of my control, but anyone who thinks they are in control are kidding themselves.
If the library were an essay being brought to a professor for a grade, it would likely come back hanging its head with a B- and lots of comments in red ink about lack of focus and the need for a strong thesis statement. He might scrawl a note in the margin saying, “Does a fairy ladder really support the main idea of lending books?” Perhaps the professor would throw in a bone about how the library has lots of good ideas but lacks development.
I confess I share this trait with my library. Unfinished projects pile up in my basement and attic. My life will probably receive a disappointed B- from God who sees all my unrealized potential. Hopefully in the fullness of time, all of the good ideas that I have laid aside will one by one come to fruit and I will be able to pull out an A+ for the final grade. Lets hope that in the second semester of life I don’t do something ruinous to further bring down my grade, but all this talk of grades makes it sound like I am in control. When in reality, we really live under grace and life that is more of a pass/fail proposition.
Over time a number of things have failed. The library roof was a spectacular disaster. I had fabricated a low slung hip roof using found material, but I was overly optimistic in thinking that a few coats of paint would protect the whole thing from the elements. As moisture penetrated the fiberboard, it began to swell. In a desperate rescue attempt I added a layer of vinyl to protect it, but soon it looked bloated. I tossed the whole spongy mess of a roof into the trash and started from scratch. The replacement roof was engineered to not only meet the challenges of the elements, but to support a roof garden. The first plantings did not fare well, so for my second planting I gave more care in choosing my plants and watered them religiously. At the end of last summer the roof looked lush, green, and shaggy. This spring the plantings have emerged from winter’s frost with new shoots.
When a failure is imposed by mother nature, there is no appeal process. Leaky roofs and dead plantings must be addressed. On the other hand, some rubrics are subjective. Where one evaluator might see a lack of focus, another might find poetic expression. If a Swiss Army Knife can claim the title of knife, then surely my library can rightly claim the title of library. I would hope that some years from now, when my work gets turned in for a final reckoning, the eye that reviews it will be sympathetic to who I am and what I have hoped to achieve. Even if not everything gets the scrutiny of a four point scale, I want to try my very best.
More images and information on the library can be found at http://funliteracy.com/
1 The store’s name is Dig and Save
A few weeks ago I was looking through old books at a rummage sale. A sign on the wall read: “vintage books 50 cents”. There were stacks of books that my grandparents or great grandparents might have read in their youth. In that pile I found Horatio Alger’s 1890 book, Five Hundred Dollars. While the narrative was rather plodding, I was fascinated by the now exotic view of our country where a hearty meal cost 25 cents and transit is by horse and carriage. If I had not been aware of the myth, I might have come to the conclusion that the name Horatio Alger is synonymous with stilted predictable writing. The myth of Horatio Alger, is well stated by Wikipedia, which says he writes about “impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty”. This myth runs deep in the American psyche. I remember hearing it from my parents and grandparents, so I was prompted to pick up the book to discover how the Horatio Alger myth was formed. The book did not live up to my expectations of the Horatio Alger myth and in my eyes it failed as a work of literature, as well as a source of moral instruction.
The Horatio Alger myth has a certain beauty to it as we imagine an underdog fighting his way to success. As I read this book, I found that the story deviated from my understanding of the myth. While the author takes pains to endow the protagonist with traits of hard work, honesty, and good character, his achievements were made possible by intervention by others. There is a rich uncle in the story who plays the role of fairy godmother to a poor Cinderella boy. Contrary to my understanding of the Horatio Alger myth this protagonist’s rise was was due to connections.
I did not expect much from the book as a work of literature and in that respect I was not disappointed. The characters are rather one dimensional, the plot is predictable, and the dialogue is stiff. This is a book of moral instruction and the author goes out of his way to draw characters in black and white.
As I contemplated this book as a tool for moral instruction, I began to wonder what values were being advocated to my grandfather as his young impressionable mind was soaking up this adventure. The theme of avarice vs. generosity eclipses everything else. In pursuing this theme, the author takes pains to document every penny spent in this book. In the end, virtue is rewarded, monetarily, but the process of achieving this result seems to strip life of any joy aside from that which money can provide. For example, the protagonist’s brief stage of career is praised for it’s high wages and short hours. I was disappointed in the accountant’s view of reckoning, where every moral choice seems based in monetary reward.
As I contemplate the faults of this book, I wonder if it has any bearing today. I fear that Tea Party nostalgia longs for Horatio Alger. If this book were to become a template for our society, I would expect that many rich uncles would fail to play their part as fairy godmother. Even if they did perform scattered attempts at charity, what will become of those poor boys who are not such shining example of virtue?
The other day I photographed paintings from a crate I had stashed away 20 years ago. Here is some of what I found.
As is my my habit, I used various fabrics to wrap Christmas gifts this year. I dislike the waste of wrapping paper almost as much as I dislike saving old wrapping paper. The three gifts show here are wrapped in clothing repurposed as gift wrap. I like the dramatic colors and textures of the fabrics. The blue gift is a Japanese fireman’s jacket. The other two gifts are skirts. I added a sturdy belt to contrast with the orange skirt. On the long thin package, I put a ribbon and medallion saved from another year. I did not sew or cut the garments. I carefully tucked in the edges and simply pinned them on the packages with sewing pins.
Sorry I can’t reveal what the packages contain due to the risk that the recipient might read this blog.