Saturday, July 31, 2010
It happened. I can't say that I wasn't warned. I somehow thought that I'd be the exception, but ho no, not so. It all started earlier in the week, when I bought a Droid. Seemed harmless enough, right? Smart phones are ubiquitous these days, and I'm a responsible adult. It's not like I'm the type of person to get addicted to these techno-gadgets, after all. Right??
Oh baby. This has been the slipperiest slope of my life. I even oiled the soles of my feet so that I could slide all the faster. Better than sex is all I can say, this Droid thing. Which is a good thing because...well, never mind. Even the screen saver blows my mind. It's like taking Ecstasy and falling in love with the whole of humanity for the first time. I honestly think that the goodness and intelligence of the human race, as well as the summation of our achievements as a modern civilization, have been condensed to fit in the palm of our hands in the form of the Droid.
Okay, so after flipping out over the screen saver for a couple of days (it's a pond, folks! It has leaves floating around, and when you touch the screen, the water ripples!), I started checking out the apps. Omg. Have I already used the Ecstasy metaphor? Dang, I did. The apps make me positively weepy. I was at the bar a few nights ago, app surfing, and the guy next to me told me about an app with bird calls. He said his wife's a birder, and she puts the phone near the window, plays the bird calls, and the birds come and hang out on their windowsill. Oh man, I went through a pile of bar napkins over that one. It's funny, I thought, that tears of joy make the same mess as tears of sorrow. (Remind me to tweet that...)
After a few days of timid app surfing, I thought, to heck with it. If I'm going to get all tech'd out, I might's well throw in the towel and go all the way. So with a combination of great pride, deep humiliation, and untethered tech-lust, I executed a perfect swan dive into the abyss, and this is what happened as a result:
- I now have a Twitter account. My desired username was taken for some odd reason (are there really two Meg Hitchcocks in the world??), so Peggy Peanut it is. (Many thanks to my late grandmother who coined the name many years ago, adding a few years onto my therapy). I'm amazed at the deeply philosophical tweets I've been receiving. Twitter isn't just a bunch of girls who tweet about the new shoes they're about to buy, are in the process of buying, have just bought, and are now wearing. There are things equally riveting on Twitter.
- I'm reading my first novel on Kindle for Droid. I absolutely love it, which surprises me, as I've always been such a bibliophile. Ink and pulp are so first-half-of-2010. I used to carry a book everywhere I went, a form of security, but now all I need is my Droid. Perfect for the L train during rush hour. And when I go to a bar to have a beer and read my book? Instead of looking like a dork, I now look like a hipster. Or at least the mom of a hipster.
- I'm now one of those obnoxious persons (the 'obliviot') who walks down the street holding her Droid twelve inches from her face, bumping into people and creating minor havoc with her self-absorption.
- I've been text messaging for some time, but with a few pokes of my index finger, I doubled my text allotment. So if the tweeting is slow, I can revert to texting, and back again. Just trying to think ahead a little, as the long winter's a'comin', and it can get lonely here in the monastery.
- I'm downloading games faster than I can play them. I figure if I ever get stranded on a desert isle, I'm set for life. As long as there's an outlet.
- The only thing that I haven't quite figgered out is the phone app. There seems to be some kind of bug in the design, because while I'm talking, my cheek presses buttons and I end up disconnecting the call. But hey, no complaints here. After all, I can't expect a smart phone to do everything.
So there ya go. You might not be hearing from me for a while. Or actually, you might be hearing from me more often, since I can blog from my Droid. As far as my art goes....well, it was a good run. I'll try to fit it in. Nah, just kidding - in fact, I'm going to be in a show next weekend, if you're around. It's at Famous Accountants, here in Brooklyn. A group show called 'Tunneling', curated by Will Pappenheimer. I'll have 5 of my text pieces in the show.
Gotta run - my Droid is calling me. Have a great weekend, and don't forget to tweet me.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I've been having an online discussion and repartee with someone who has seen my website, read my blog, and seems to think that I'm a latter day genius. I know what you're thinking – hey, I thought it was hysterical too – so you just go ahead and sneer, snicker, snovulate – do whatever you have to do, and I'll be here waiting for you when you're finished.
Done so soon? Okay, first off, let me say that I don't necessarily agree with the Madge-as-genius thing. Charming? Yes. Mildly brilliant? Maybe. Kind, compassionate, humble, and meek? Absolutely. Egomaniac? Heck yeah. But genius? Dude, that brings me to the level of Mozart, Einstein, and Elvis. It's not just modesty that makes me deny all claims to genius – it's full-on fear of the company I'd have to keep. What would I talk about at Mensa meetings? More importantly, what would I wear?? (Indeed, the fact that "What to wear?" is my chief concern about attending a Mensa meeting is a good indication that I needn't worry too much about being invited).
So, having debunked any claims to genius with nary a protest from my reading audience, I'd like to share with you some of the insights that my lone admirer (who admittedly has never met me in person, which should tell you something right there) and I have shared regarding what maketh a genius, and what doth not. (Incidentally, long, run-on sentences such as the preceding are not generally taken as signs of rampant genius).
What makes someone a genius? The MacArthur Foundation can only give so many grants, so we can't take that as a sign. A high IQ doesn't necessarily a genius make; we all know a few intelligent people who are major knuckleheads. And sheer academic learning doesn't have much bearing either, as it's more of a feat of memorization and tenacity than of inspired ideas. After all, a brain surgeon performs essentially the same task over and over: Same operation, different skull. It's not exactly flipping burgers, but my point is that brain surgery is a learned skill, and divine intervention is not required for a successful operation. I would imagine that it's even frowned upon in the operating room; after all, no one wants their brain surgeon to stop operating because she's receiving heavenly inspiration.
So this is what my virtual friend and I came to regarding genius: Take someone who is highly talented and brilliant in his or her field. She has learned all the notes, understands all the equations, can paint with bravado, and theorize with authority in her chosen area of study. Once that person has attained some degree of virtuosity, there follows a relinquishing of that skill. This requisite "forgetting" of what one has learned is the hardest part. Anyone can learn to play the piano, but try forgetting what you've learned. It's extremely difficult, especially when there's an attachment to the achievement.
The genius has no attachment to the material he has learned. He releases it, forgets it, and gets on with his creating and thinking, without directly accessing his learned set of skills. The knowledge and skill are still there, but now they've become instinctual and effortless. More importantly, he understands that he needs to step aside and let the creative or 'inspired' energy come through him. Genius is more about getting out of the way than it is about making a statement.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with religion or belief. It's just different degrees of surrender. Genius is a combination of the willingness to open up to let energy or spirit move through you, and the technical ability to communicate that energy. Cases in point: Bach didn't invent the wheel. Newton didn't write the Mass in B Minor. Mozart wasn't a quantum physicist. John Lennon's paintings blow. Each of their geniuses was in the field where they had mastery, but the inspiration came from left field, so to speak. Inspiration is most likely to take place when one fully surrenders to her creative impulse.
So while I don't consider myself to be in league with any of these guys, at least I'm sharp enough to know that I'm not a genius. And I work a lot, which is something. Someone once asked Bach how he was able to accomplish so much, and he answered, "I work hard." Probably an apocryphal story, but inspiring nonetheless.
Many thanks to my online friend whose thoughts on genius inspired the above blog entry.
Monday, July 19, 2010
I visited my parents over the weekend in Vermont. My dad, who sleeps outside in the summer, told me that for the past few weeks he's heard a dog barking all night long. He said the sound is muffled, as though it's coming from a good distance, so he figured that it must be on the other side of the hills behind their house. My dad felt bad for the dog, because night after night it barks steadily until dawn, and no one bothers to check on it or let it in.
Then one night while I was visiting, he realized that it wasn't a dog at all, but a frog that was in some thick bushes near the house, not twenty yards from his head. So instead of hearing some lonesome, neglected dog yapping all night, my dad had been listening to a very macho and fortunate bullfrog getting it on with the wife.
Proving once again that things are seldom, if ever, what they seem to be.
Friday, July 2, 2010
My current text drawing focuses on the Bible and the Koran. I've written about the piece here, if you're interested; otherwise, just read on. Now, I know a lot about the Bible. I'm no scholar, but I know enough to put you all to sleep. But I don't know that much about the Koran. And I'm curious, because I'm working with it rather intimately at the moment, and will be for months to come. But besides that, Islam is figuring rather prominently in the world today. Islamic ideals are behind much of what we hear in the news every day, and in general, the news isn't so good. And finally, I'm just really interested in this stuff. I guess you could say that studying spiritual traditions is my hobby. I figure if I ever get sick of it I'll learn how to bowl or something.
So I picked up this book on Mohammad by Karen Armstrong. It's a really good read, but I'm afraid I'd lose a lot of readers if I started blogging about the life of the Prophet. Instead, I'd like to wax a little about his attitude toward women. In general, when one thinks of Islam, the first thing that comes to mind is not women's equality and emancipation. One tends to think of oppression, abuse, and polygamy. To our post-modern sensibilities, Mohammad was a staunch chauvinist whose harsh treatment of women was reprehensible, and who encouraged the abusive behavior of his male contemporaries toward their numerous wives.
Not so. Indeed, quite the opposite. Mohammad was WAY ahead of his time in his treatment of women. And he got a lot of flak for it, too, but that didn't stop him. This really surprised me, and made me kinda respect the guy. See, if you're going to judge a person, you have to do so within the context of their culture and upbringing. You may say that a murderer is a murderer and then judge her accordingly. But what's her story? Why did she do it? Do the extenuating circumstances make the 'sin' more acceptable? And the biggest, baddest question: Are you willing to throw the first stone?
[ brief pause for poignant self-reflection ]
Yeah, so anyway, the deal with Mohammad was that he was born in the arid plains of the desert steppes, into a harsh reality where there was rampant lawlessness. Monotheism hadn't yet found its way to Arabia, and peace wasn't even something to strive for; it just wasn't expected. Thieving was a way of life, and no one was surprised when their caravan was looted, nor were they particularly concerned, because they knew they'd thieve it back at the first opportunity. So when you hear someone haughtily exclaim that "Mohammad was a thief!", well, it's kind of a moot point. It's like saying, "Jesus was a Jew!" or "Lindsay Lohan has fake boobs!" Well, duh. It's part of the job description, dude.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, women were considered to be part of a man's property, along with his animals and slaves. A husband could have as many wives as he wanted, and there were no laws which labeled him a deadbeat husband or dad. Nor were there rules stating that he couldn't rape women in addition to raping his wives, which confounded the issue of paternity. Without the benefits of DNA testing, it was anyone's guess whose kid belonged to whom, therefore no man felt compelled to support his wives financially. He may have been a wealthy guy, but his wives were often left to fend for themselves and their children, often living with her parents in dire poverty. In regard to physical abuse, from what I can gather, even the nicest, most laid-back Arabian guys didn't think twice about beating their wives. It was a pastime, and a way to let off steam after a hard day of looting. These women were stuck, big time. They had no recourse, and no where to run but the desolation of the desert, so they were totally at the mercy of their men.
Enter Muhammad. Like Jesus, he was a pacifist. He abhorred aggression, and according to his contemporaries, he never beat his wives. He forbade violence against women*, and audaciously stated that women should be respected because Allah looks kindly upon them:
It is not lawful for you that you should take women as heritage against their will, and do not straiten them in order that you may take part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of manifest indecency, and treat them kindly; then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it.
This infuriated his male contemporaries, who were outraged at the thought of losing their punching bags. Mohammad then did another thing that was reviled by his cronies and our contemporary culture alike: He stated that men could have four wives. We think it's terribly chauvinistic that he gave a nod to polygamy, but folks, this law limited men to four wives. Before Mohammad, they could have as many as they liked, without the hassle of child support. And to really make things tough for the Arabian stud-muffins, Muhammad added to the memo that they had to support all of their wives and children, which meant that they were only allowed as many wives as they could afford, up to four. And they couldn't sleep with (read: rape) other women anymore, either. Just shag your wives, guys, and do it nicely. Thus spake Allah, through the Prophet Muhammad, translated by Our Madge.
But wait, there's more. Muhammad provided protection for widows (who were until then sold into slavery by the husband's family), as well as their children. He stated that women should get dowries from their husbands when they married, which could never be taken away from them. (This gave them emergency money if their husband died). He gave them some education. He allowed them to participate in politics, and stated that if their husbands died (which they did, more often than not) and left behind any money or a business, they should be allowed to keep their money, and, if they chose and were able, run their late husband's business. Under the law of the Koran, their goods and children were to remain with them, period. If anyone broke this law, he would suffer the consequences, and in retaliation, Muhammad was ruthless. You simply wouldn't want to get on Muhammad's bad side, because his revenge was Allah's revenge, and it was brutal.
Pretty amazing. My man Muhammad was one righteous Prophet. He also made a lot of mistakes along the way, but God bless him for trying. I'm not suggesting that Muhammad was blameless, or that he inspired the likes of Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan. I just think the guy ought to be given his due, as he made the lives of battered Arabian women so much more tolerable.
*Okay, so he later did a flip-flop, but the guy was under a lot of pressure. He needed to prepare his men for holy war, and was losing their support because they were angry with him for teaching their wives to stand up to them. Muhammad was no dope; he knew that he had to make some compromises if he wanted to carry out his mission. So he later said all-right-all-ready, go ahead and beat your wives, but only if they deserve it. I know, it's lame, and I totally get it if you think the guy was a rat-bastard. But I don't. Every honest and respectable politician has to learn the art of compromise if she wants to get something done.