"I need to figure that out..."

Over the years, I have set a few mental triggers for myself that let me know my thinking is revved up and running away with me. 

One of them is when I notice I'm talking to myself, either letting my in-my-head voice loose or carrying on my side of an argument that either has happened or has yet to happen.

Another is when I hear myself say "I need to figure that out..." This is usually a signal to me that I am in my head, my thinking is revved up, and I need to take a step back from the situation.

Saying "I need to figure it out" is like saying "I need to think about it more," which is usually the last thing I need to do. When my mood is low, thinking about the problem just makes me feel worse. In fact, my feelings are an indicator that I should avoid actively thinking about the problem. 

I like the description of thinking as a power tool, like a drill. A drill is useful for specific tasks, but it's not something to be used every day, as we would use a hammer or a screwdriver. Thinking is useful for planning a trip, troubleshooting a DSL connection -- practical stuff. But thinking about concepts like my career, my life, my place in the world -- the thinking there gets dicey and not to be trusted. 

Now, when I hear myself say that trigger phrase, it's my cue to stand up, walk around, breathe deeply, get some blood flowing, change up what I'm focusing on -- distract myself, in other words. Later on, an insight or next step may pop into my head when there is less thinking on my mind, and then I'm over the hump. 

Update: Dr. Amy Johnson, author of The Little Book of Big Change, posted a video circling around this question of "figuring things out."  


Can a Male Artist Still Paint a Female Nude? | The Cut

While feminist art critics have for decades pointed out the shortcomings of the “male gaze,” the post-#MeToo reckoning with the art world’s systemic sexism, its finger-on-the-scale preference for male genius, has given that critique a newly powerful force. And the question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

I remember some 30-odd years ago reading John Berger's Ways of Seeing and the two pages displaying female nudes, looking back at the viewer who is looking at them. Male nudes have never figured as much, except, as one of the quoted artists observes, Jesus naked on the cross.

The article, by Michael Slenske and Molly Langmuir, is in two parts. The first interviews male painters who continue to paint female nudes while the second enlists seven female artists to talk about men and women painting nude women and the effects of current -- or in the case of Judy Chicago, past -- events. 

But before you read, scroll down to the third part, titled "Duelling Gazes," and study the gallery of female nudes. No artist names are attributed to the pictures. Instead, you are asked to guess who created each image: a man or a woman? Most all of the paintings are discussed in the article so you will eventually puzzle out who painted what. I wish I had done that before reading this article, to see how my own biases are calibrated.

I liked this quote from Marilyn Minter, whose paintings ran afoul of anti-pornography feminists in the last decades of the last century:

“I was a traitor to feminism, but my side won,” she says. “Now it’s the return of all that.” Her larger point? “There are no safe places: This is the world, it’s pretty awful, and it’s pretty great at the same time. But the minute you try to pin down sexuality, it’s going to spit in your face. It’s totally personal, it’s fluid. Trying to make rules is a waste of energy. Progressives can take each other apart — we do it all the time — when the bigger enemy is these neo-Nazis. That’s where the energy should be, not trying to police fucking paintings.”

The Guiding Greene Light of Harry Crews

“Graham Greene—you’ve probably heard me quote before, because god knows, it’s true—’The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.’ There it is. There it is. Nah, you write things and write things—write a book for instance—and write and write and write and write and write, and you know, it’s not—every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be,” Crews told Dangerous Minds in 2010.


Sometimes the Best Way to Read is to Mark Up the Book | Literary Hub

In order to understand writing, I have to annotate it. I started with Hopkins. I bought a used edition of his selected poetry and prose, and started writing in the margins of the beige pages. This wasn’t defacing; this was an act of communion.

One of the joys for me of second hand books is reading the marginalia. It’s not always clever or profound, but sometimes I see the conversation, the interrogation, the connections made, between a reader and the text and it can be thrilling. I remember reading somewhere that Coleridge’s annotations and marginalia were so impressive that friends and patrons would pay him to read and annotate books that they would then keep as cherished keepsakes in their personal libraries.

I have a few books that so captured me I had to create my own index in the back of the book and underlined or scribbled in the margins beside a line or paragraph that unsettled me or caused me to see things in a different light. Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind is one such book that leaps to mind. 

But Nick Ripatrazone is not so much in dialogue with the text he’s reading; instead, he’s making marks on the page to understand how the words make poetry. It’s a sign of my own ignorance and innocence that it never occurred to me to annotate a poem this way, but of course it makes perfect sense.

Fiction writers are advised to do the same thing: copy out by hand or keyboard a short story or even a novel that means something to you. (Harry Crews meticulously studied and typed out the whole of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.) By feeling every comma and period under your fingers, you’re engaging with the text not as a dreamer, but as a student, an apprentice.

The nearest thing I’ve done to what Ripatrazone describes is when I used to act. My script would be marked with blocking, underlined emphases, and – whenever I got a speech – breaking the long passage down into smaller passages with hash marks, finding a rhythm both musically and emotionally that the words could travel on. 

As pretty as a pristine edition of a book can be, there’s something about a book that’s been argued with, pored over, and written in that makes that book way more interesting.

Nancy for a new age

Orange Crate Art's ongoing coverage of the Nancy comic strip -- from the acclaimed Fantagraphics book on how to read Nancy to the recent changeover of the daily strips to artist Olivia Jaimes -- convinced me to start reading the strip. (See all his Nancy posts on his Pinboard page.)

I read this week's strips and also like what he praises: its dryness, its cleverness, its hipness to what a kid and an audience would know about the current world. Tom the Dancing Bug's sarcastic awareness of comics tropes seems an influence, also.

OCA also alerted me to the AVClub article on the controversy surrounding the changeover to Jaimes from the former daily artist Guy Gilchrist, who is still doing the Sunday strip. Fans tend to the conservative, so it's understandable that those who knew what to expect from a daily Nancy strip now don't know what they're going to get. But that's what I find exciting.



Soviet film posters of the '50s and '60s

The Guardian web site runs an online gallery of pictures or images on a theme. The movie posters here reflect the thaw under Khrushchev, though some of the movies themselves continued the East vs. West propaganda struggle and the rightness of the Soviet path. A few evoke Socialist Party poster images but you can see the designers straining for a bolder, more experimental style.

They don't quite shake a literalism to the human figure and most lack a strong central image to anchor the composition. By contrast, Saul Bass's striking poster designs for Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder make bold statements that stop you dead and evoke a sense of the movie without directly illustrating an event. The Soviet posters feel more tentative, yet there is a quiet mood and craft to some of them that invite the eye to stop and linger. 

  <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2018/apr/21/soviet-film-posters-of-the-50s-and-60s-in-pictures"><img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/d8c2f-blackseagull.jpg" alt="" /></a>

I love the red and black contrasts of 25 Baku Commissars, the scratchboard effect of Black Sunglasses, and the leaf-print/snowflake designs surrounding the couple in Young and Green.

But if I had to pick one to take home with me and put on a wall, I think it would be Black Seagull: the image's woodcut nature, the contrasting black-and-yellow palette, the stiff lines of the dress folds indicating movement, the primacy of the female image as the plane draws near -- they all get my attention.

Don't fight the system -- create a new one

You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.
— Buckminster Fuller

A friend of a friend is a priest in a progressive area. He is very innovative in his methods to help people in his community who are in need. 

In cases of injustice, his attitude is to not fight the system, because that just causes the system to entrench further and – worse – it defines what you’re doing in terms of the system. The established system controls the terms of the debate.

Instead, he prefers to create his own system, with its own approaches and strategies. If you create a new system that is in integrity with your values, and it produces better results than the old system, then you (and maybe others) will use the better system more often. The new system takes over without a struggle and the old system loses its authority. No battles are needed, only preferences expressed.

It takes more creativity and courage to work this way. You are deliberately stepping outside everyone’s boundaries of certainty into the chaos of uncertainty. Yet, it’s from that chaos that new, creative thinking arises.

Bringing this down to the level of my obsessions, I see old systems at work in the self-improvement realm with established diets, fitness regimens, productivity, etc. New systems come along – like the Bullet Journal – to become established systems in their own right. 

I have tended to follow established systems due to the lure of the “sure thing,” only to often experience mixed results. I’m glad I did them, because I learned more about the domain and how I operate within those rules. And sometimes, that system produced exactly the results I wanted.

But in other areas, I think I may be better off walking in uncertainty and seeing what new thinking emerges.

DSL woes v -- The End (...for now?...)

I made a few changes a week ago when the connectivity was poor. I basically reset everything to zero -- no customizations, no trying to tweak performance. I did this so that, if I called Frontier tech support after the weekend, I could tell them the system was running as specified by them. I did not want anything in place that they could object to.

  • On the modem, I reverted the DNS server URLs to the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I cleared the custom DNS server URLs (going to CloudFlare and Google Public DNS). The Airport is now using the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I reverted the wifi channels back to Automatic.
  • I unplugged the Airport, then unplugged the modem, let them sit idle for a while, plugged in the modem, let it boot up and connect, and then plugged in the Airport. (Not sure I got the order right there, but that's what I think I did.)
  • I also got a 1-foot cable to connect the modem to the DSL jack. I had a 10-foot cable before. I don't believe the length of the cable has anything to do with connection speed, but again, I wanted to remove any objections that Frontier tech support might have had to my setup. In my magical-thinking mode, the long looped cable may have picked up interference from the ancient power strip I use or maybe other cables it rubbed against. Anyway -- no problems with old, long cords.

Within a day or so, the connection stabilized. I still check Speedtest and Fast.com and the speeds are variable, but I more often see 1.5-2.5 Mbps than not. That's better than before, believe or not. Liz reports experiencing slowdowns when she works from home but the system does not fall over.

Network Logger Pro has recorded no total outages and far fewer DNS outages.

Did all my spells and incantations help? Or was it just the Frontier network going through a little crisis of faith and now it's back on its feet thanks to the love and support of its family and friends? We may never know. 

I do know that this latest round of self-reflection and meditation forced a few beneficial changes to our physical netowkr setup, and the connection is back to "good enough" (i.e., no more than two pauses, if any, while streaming Netflix to the Apple TV). 

I will continue to run Network Logger Pro for another week and Speedtest when I am suspicious.   But no more active tweaking of the system unless I encounter a real problem.


Alan Ayckbourn: Advice from Harold Pinter

I think Norman’s background is deliberately sketchy - I’m less interested in his genesis than his impact. Blame my mentor at the time, one Harold Pinter, who directed me early on when I was playing Stanley in his deliberately opaque The Birthday Party. I too was mystified as to where my character had come from or even, after the play had ended, where on earth he went. So I asked him. Harold looked at me for a second and then gave me the immortal note, “Mind your own fucking business.” I sort of knew what he meant and, after over 40 years of directing, it’s one I rather wish I’d had the courage to give at times!

We recently finished a rewatch of the 1977 TV adaptation of The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn. The three plays make a great weekend of viewing for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. We watch them every 5 or 6 years; the familiarity is there, but the details have been forgotten so there are always fun little surprises. The acting and comic timing is crystal-perfection.