Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? A 21st Century Class Project

The assignment:

For Thurs., Sept. 30: Prepare a five-minute oral presentation on an artist working solely (or almost solely) on the web. (You can augment the presentation with web materials, which you'll be able to project in class.) Describe the artist's work -- in your language, not relying on visual examples. Contextualize the artist and position him or her historically. What is the artist's critical reputation? Why is the artist noteworthy, original or otherwise important?

My Project:

Some background:

The artist (s):

Who are these dudes?

Golan Levin's work combines equal measures of the whimsical, the provocative, and the sublime in a wide variety of online, installation and performance media. He teaches courses in audiovisual systems and information visualization at Carnegie Mellon University, and is represented by bitforms gallery NYC.

Kamal Nigam has expertise in data mining and machine learning with an emphasis on analyzing text and internet data. Formerly Director of Applied Research at Intelliseek, he has just started a position at the new Google engineering office in Pittsburgh.

Jonathan Feinberg takes pride in executing the invisible-yet-essential. He works in the Collaborative User Experience group at IBM Watson Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a drummer he has worked with such bands as They Might Be Giants, Lisa Loeb, and Church of Betty.

What does Lev Manovich have to say about The Dumpster?

Read it here!

What's so unique about break-ups??? Zillions of artists have drawn inspiration from broken hearts. Such as:

This guy

And this guy

And this guy

Let's tackle the questions posed by our professor:

  • How would I explain this work?
  • How is it inextricable from new technology?
  • What's the revenue stream?
  • What central idea ought to emerge in a review?
  • What traditions does this draw on...or not?
Let's take a look!

So, what becomes of the broken hearted?

21st Century art.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tofu and Yahoos

There are certain things I expect when I patronize a natural foods restaurant in New York.

Tofu is one of them.

Yahoos are typically NOT on the menu.

And yet, inexplicably, there was a tableful of drunken, loud-mouthed, tattooed, conspiracy-theorist, anti-government, anti-Semitic rednecks seated next to HOBB and me at Quantum Leap earlier today.

Their conversation sounded like an NRA pep rally hijacked by neo-Nazi survivalists punctuated by the laugh track of "Hee-Haw."

Sipping miso soup, HOBB rolled his eyes as the loudest of the gang expounded his beliefs on the "media," -- a.k.a. The Jews -- and their absolute control over everything from (yawn) the international money market to Hollywood to the war in Iraq.

As the strains of this conversation reached my ears, I put down my spoon, unable to ingest my delicious dolphin-free, dairy-free salmon chowder. I was incredulous, then angry, then simply mystified. What the f@#$ were these nogoodniks from Nowhereville USA doing at this East Village eatery, where half the diners wore Tom's Shoes and deliberately uncombed hair and had an anemic, animal-rightsy look while the other half were cutting edge creative types wearing interesting designer ensembles?

It was a good question, one that HOBB and I sought the answer for throughout the duration of our whole earth, whole food, locally grown, non-GMO, fair trade meal.

Part of the answer, it seemed, is that this group had thought they would get into some legendary New York restaurant for Sunday brunch, sans reservation. When that fell through, they mysteriously ended up at Quantum Leap.

Though their irritating twangs lingered in the air, the townies eventually faded into the serene background of Manhattan on a Sunday in September. Happily, their offensive influence was shortly erased by the magic that greeted us just a few blocks away in Union Square: an outdoor exhibition of architectural magnificence -- Sukkah City -- featuring contemporary, creative renderings of the humble huts erected by the wandering Israelites in their desert journey towards the Promised Land. Though this journey took place thousands of years ago, Jewish tradition commands the construction of such huts with the advent of the holiday of Sukkot -- sometimes awkwardly termed "The Feast of the Tabernacles." Those who grew up in an observant Jewish home -- or were friends with observant Jews -- know the thrill of building this ritual clubhouse every fall, the joy of decorating it with fruit and flowers and vegetables and tinsel and trinkets and colorful posters.

The real fun is that this ritual object is entirely usable, in fact, the mitzvah is for the Sukkah to be utilized, that is, inhabited. So, for seven days -- or most of them -- observant Jews will take their meals in the Sukkah, with the extremely religious going as far as to sleep there as well.

Sukkahs and Sukkot are not the first things NJs* tend to know about Jewish tradition so it was fairly mind-blowing to note that by three p.m. today, Union Square was as packed and rowdy as a rock concert. Eager spectators of Sukkah City hailed from just about everywhere on the planet, with an especially heavy representation of French folk. A heady stew of languages and accents churned and brewed in the air. Cameras clicked. Gothamite children and oldsters mingled with teens, students, vagrants, and enchanted (though somewhat confused) tourists. Poses were struck. Videos were filmed. Everywhere people were blabbing extemporaneously -- as if talking in tongues or seized by the spirit -- explaining to their friends or passers by or no one in particular what a Sukkah is; what the holiday, nearly upon us, is all about.

HOBB and I walked, open-mouthed, through this carnival-like setting, greeting those we knew, smiling at others who looked familiar, admiring the architecture and art inspired by this ancient yet simple structure first erected by a fleeing slave nation. We marveled at Manhattan's magical, Sukkah-like quality, its penchant for serving as a harbor and home to all who seek sustenance and shelter, even rednecks just riding through.


Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gift of a Yom Kippur in Bed

I felt it coming but didn't relate the symptoms until they converged upon me -- around 5:05 p.m. yesterday -- smack in the middle of my "Evidence and Inference" class.

The sky had darkened dramatically and without warning. The wind whipped up. A ferocious rain beat down on Broadway. I tried to act like a graduate student and not look out the window. Casting surreptitious glances to my left, I was astonished that no one seemed to notice that Armageddon was upon us. The guest lecturer continued his class. The students nodded with intellectual intent and took notes. But I was the kid with the A.D.D., barely able to constrain herself from rushing to the window and shouting: "OMIGOD!!! Do you see this storm????"

What did restrain me, though, was the simultaneous acknowledgement that the dull pain I had been feeling in my back and bones for the past few days, the pressure in my sinuses, the throbbing headache, my increasing nasal congestion and drip, my urge to run to the bathroom every few seconds added up to one incontrovertible fact: I was sick.

And on the eve of the eve of Yom Kippur, too.

Well, despite my best holistic efforts to overcome this illness by natural means -- horrendously bitter tincture of echinacea and goldenseal, gallons of green tea, gentle exercise and a sweat fest in the steam room of the JCC locker room spiced by drops of tea tree oil which burned my skin -- it is the eve of Yom Kippur and I'm sicker than I even was yesterday, feverish, indeed.

So, as my family finishes their seudah mafseket* and takes their seven sips of water before the advent of the 25-hour fast and their departure to Ramath Orah for the Kol Nidrei service, I am shivering in bed, covered with a woolen blanket from my late mother-in-law's house in Westport, CT, blowing my nose every few minutes, trying to self-diagnose.

I've got it narrowed down to strep throat, bronchitis or the flu. It might also be a killer cold.

It goes without saying that I am not going to shul tonight, in fact, when HOBB declared, half an hour ago, that he didn't think it was a good idea for me to go out tonight, I started laughing. Middle Babe and Little Babe, seated at the dinner table, were casting me concerned looks as I snuffled and spoke in a barely audible nasal monotone. My illness is so obvious that I could not believe he thought I would even entertain such a notion.

Though I am possessed of a macho instinct to fight off impending illnesses, I know when to admit defeat. Right now, I'm at the stage where I am considering calling the doctor because I might need antibiotics.

Being me -- that is, ridiculously, excessively, childishly introspective -- I am attempting to examine the meaning of this Yom Kippur affliction, or more exactly, trying to extract meaning from it. Liberated or barred from a community prayer service tonight, depending on how you look at it, I will endeavor to read the Kol Nidrei service by myself, with an eye towards seeing something I had never seen before.

From their home in Great Neck, my parents, FOBB and MOBB, just called with their pre-Yom Kippur wishes. Their kindly voices imploring me to stay in bed, drink fluids (despite the fast) and keep my feet warm returned me to my long-ago childhood, to the remarkable feeling of standing on the cusp of Yom Kippur, when I was overcome with awe at the notion of the Gates of Heaven opening for humankind to petition God.

Their wishes for my recovery and for a sweet, healthy and happy year, was spiritual medicine, removing me from the often-cynical sense of despair I am afflicted with in my adult life. Their unambiguous love for me and Jewish tradition made me certain that there is a unique gift to a Yom Kippur spent in bed.

Thus edified, from my bedroom perch on Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street I am momentarily strengthened to send out wishes to all of humanity for a sweet, healthy and happy year.

*final meal before a fast

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

LIFE IMITATES ART! Woody Allen Quotes Alvy Singer Quoting Groucho Marx

On the eve of the eve of the eve of Yom Kippur comes this stunningly asinine comment by Woody Allen at the very start of his interview with New York Times journalist Dave Itzkoff:
Asked on Tuesday morning if it was appropriate to wish him a happy Jewish New Year, Woody Allen made it clear that such formalities were not necessary. “No, no, no,” he said with a chuckle, seated in an office suite at the Loews Regency hotel. “That’s for your people,” he told this reporter. “I don’t follow it. I wish I could get with it. It would be a big help on those dark nights.
The irony here is especially deep when one recalls the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy Singer renders Groucho Marx's quintessential quote of (Jewish) self-deprecation: "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member."

Since there is nothing to say beyond Allen's pathetic confession/delusion that his people are not Itzkoff's people I'll leave this alone and return throughout the day to read the reactions of my people to the once-great director who built his public persona on little more than simply being a Jew.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wiki, Schmiki... I Survived a Triple Whammy!!!

It is the Monday after the first Triple Whammy of the 5771 High Holiday season and the fact that I'm eating HOBB's leftover turkey from Rosh Hashana dinner in the morning is an indication of my mental state.

What is a Triple Whammy, you may ask?

For those unaccustomed to the nuances of Jewish ritual observance a Triple Whammy is a three-day retreat from reality, a state of existential lockdown that occurs when a two-day festival abuts Shabbat. For those who abide by the rules of the religion, what this means is

  • No transportation
  • No communication (phone, texting,emailing,TV,internet, etc..)
  • No work
  • No creative endeavors (writing, filmmaking, painting, building, etc...)
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Lots of synagogue attendance
  • Lots of davening (praying)
  • Lots of meals
  • Lots of merriment
  • Lots of panic at the thought of all the stuff happening around you outside of the bubble of holiday observance
Rosh Hashana, which began Wednesday night, segued into the Sabbath two nights later. There was literally not even a second of secular time in this transition, creating what some wisecracking observer of Jewish life famously coined The Triple Whammy. I kind of feel like I came up with this phrase and maybe I did but so did many others, at about the same time. The phrase has a late twentieth century feeling to me, tasting of irony and a grudging fondness for the very observance that might just possibly be manmade, does not fit with modern life and drives us utterly mad.

In less than two weeks, the second Triple Whammy hits with the advent of Succot and the week after that, we get it again with Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Please Google these terms if they are new to you; I have school work to complete after I post this entry!

And speaking of school work, I am probably posting as a form of procrastination for one of my J School assignments -- to contribute to a wiki. While I spent an inordinate amount of time researching the matter at hand -- the concepts of fusion and appropriation as they apply to art and culture -- I am freaking out at posting my research. I fear inadvertent plagiarism. I fear writing something utterly obvious. I fear not getting the links right. I fear being unmasked as some cyber-poseur.

Analyzing my anxiety, I understand myself to be suffering from PTWTSD -- Post Triple Whammy Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not the wiki per se that poses such a challenge (okay, maybe it is, just a little) but the prospect of catching up on EVERYTHING, cramming the amount of life lived by normal people over the course of three days into a handful of hours.

And then there is the Mondayness of it all. The suckiness of Mondays is a universal truth. Having PTWTSD on a Monday is a heavy cross to bear.

But HOBB's delicious leftover turkey helps. So does the misappropriation of Christian imagery in the context of a blog post about the after-affects of Jewish ritual observance. But the fun is in the fusion. Or confusion. Or the fact that unless something science fictiony happens, Monday will eventually morph into Tuesday, which will be exponentially less sucky than today for a million reasons, chiefly because by then I am sure to have posted my wiki entry.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bungalow Babe in the Big University. Part One.

Today, dear reader, was DAY ONE of the fabulous adventure of Bungalow Babe in the Big University, occasioning this special blog-within-a-blog post.

(If I had the cyber-savvy, I would have fiddled with the name of this blog, adding a carrot pointing upward to the words "Big University" but since I have no idea how to do that I'm taking this low-tech approach. It is a skill on my To-Do list for this year.)

At 5:40 am the alarm on my BlackBerry went off, filling my ears with its faux African drumming. The plan was for me to brew the world's most excellent cup of coffee (Oren's Beowulf Blend...pricey but so worth it!) while answering the emails I had neglected to address the previous night due to a Mad Men marathon, jump on the treadmill from 6:15 to 7:15, shower, take a phone call from a soon-to-be-ex client at 7:30, dress, check email again and sail out of the house at 8:20 with the intention of arriving at 8:30 sharp for the first day of Orientation for my MA program in Art and Culture writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

That was the plan. What ended up happening was the gulping down of two cups of coffee when I realized that the email I needed to send included a report I had forgotten to write, the writing of the report, the taking of the client phone call while sneakily proofreading my report, a hurried shower while pondering the report, a mad dash back to my laptop to edit the report, the emailing of the report, a hair drying frenzy that resembled an epileptic fit, a mirror-free make-up application in the elevator and an Olympian dash out the front door of my building at 8:55 causing me to arrive at the J School building with my dress glued to my skin with sweat.

But, dear reader, that is where the stress ended and the wonderfulness began. Gathering registration material, I went up to the Lecture Hall on the third floor to meet my fellow MA students and to begin my life as Bungalow Babe in the Big University, an adventure I have waited 27 years to claim!

Yes, it was 27 years ago that I met the NY Times writer who was to become my husband over the matter of Columbia J School. He was a renowned graduate of the school and I was a new college grad who had just gotten admitted into Columbia's MFA program, about which I was having severe second thoughts. (Hint: huge tuition; nothing that seemed terribly marketable about the degree; worry that students were silver spoon kids.)

I cringe/laugh to recall that I arrived for our meeting at the now-defunct Famous restaurant on W72nd Street on an overcast day in February bearing photocopies of everything I had ever published in my life...all my college clips (lots of reviews and feature stories), short stories, essays and poetry and the secret hope that he would be so bowled over by my oeuvre that he would call his editor who would hire me on the spot.

Well, that didn't happen but what did was that:

a: he told me I didn't need J School
b: he called me 10 days later to say he was reading my work, thought I was a really good writer and would I like to go out with him
c: I didn't attend the MFA program at Columbia, went elsewhere, hated it, dropped out after two semesters and I
d: got married to said Times writer
e: became a freelance writer
f: became a publicist
g: had three fabulous kids
h: nurtured the hope that one day I would indeed attend the J School

That day has come to pass and I cannot quite believe it. Neither can The Three Babes, all of whom are proud/queasy of my sudden student status. Amusingly, I bolted out the door to my orientation just as Little Babe was crawling out of his adolescent slumber, staggering to the bathroom to get ready for his 10th grade orientation. As I reminded him that I was off to school, he gave me a look familiar to parents of teens everywhere; the combination eye-roll and silent plea to be put out of one's misery.

En route to the J School, I received a text from Middle Babe giving me the report from her Maryland college campus and wishing me luck and even got a shout out from Big Babe, my journalist son in Berlin, an accomplished arts writer who is contemplating grad school himself. (Byline: A.J. Goldmann)

Exactly 12 hours later, I returned home with a spring in my step and a song in my heart and two Margaritas coursing through my veins, the result of Happy Hour at the Underground, a bar on West End Avenue I had walked past hundreds -- nay thousands -- of times yet never patronized. I was not yet a student.

As I unpacked my reading material for next week, the names, faces, stories and voices of my new classmates swirled around me, forming a kaleidoscope. The details of their lives were points of riveting color -- the guy who reported from Haiti, the female journalist from Atlanta whose father is a minister, the young woman traumatized by covering homicides, the student who heard my Elliott Smith ringtone and told me he loved "Waltz #2" -- and I marveled at the transformative quality of a single day.

It is not hyperbolic to state that today, my entire life changed, folding in on itself like the back cover of Mad magazine where A meets C and forms an entirely new picture.

There is so much to report about today but I'll be telegraphic, focusing on a few savory takeaway tidbits:
  • Food is needed. Instead of extra pens, I'm bringing snacks with me, chiefly string cheese, nuts and soy chips. Everyone was famished.
  • Water is needed. The water fountain on the second floor is filled with the moldiest, warmest water in Manhattan.
  • Turning off your cellphone, BlackBerry and laptop for several hours to discuss ideas is essential to brain function. The presentations we heard from our deans and professors today precluded being plugged in. Our two-hour class meeting was uninterrupted by bleeps, screens, urls, electronic messages and the culture of false urgency and instant responsiveness. As a result, my mind sprouted wings and soared. Quite literally, I had flights of intellectual fancy.
  • I am in the company of extraordinary people. By this I mean my fellow students as well as the school's faculty. I could weep with gratitude at the opportunity to learn alongside and from them.
  • Hope is the thing with feathers. Whatever that means. But what I mean is that, unless I am really wearing candy-colored glasses, this particular school or program attracts people who are hopeful about the future. Or their ability to positively impact it.
  • The thing I've done for the past 16 years -- PR -- is not evil. In fact, I'm especially proud of a story I pitched which appears in today's Wall Street Journal. Written by the uber-talented Diane Cole, it is about the newest High Holiday Prayerbook of the Conservative movement, a beautiful work called Lev Shalem -- Complete Heart.
You can read it here.

It's now the morning of Day Two of the Fabulous Life of Bungalow Babe in the Big University. I actually fell asleep blogging and resumed in the pre-dawn hours. HOBB has already secured my promise to pack early so we can head up to the bungalow right after the J School picnic this afternoon. It is the last weekend of the summer and we are hosting a dinner Saturday afternoon at the Love Shack in honor of our 27th anniversary. I have a dorky inspiration to sing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" to my husband at this shindig but might resist as Little Babe will be in attendance.

Having a student mom is one thing. Having a student mom who performs songs from The Lion King could prove costly, necessitating years of psychotherapy.

Besides, I've got reams of reading for school to do, plus my first assignment: to cover a cultural event I would not normally attend. I am salivating at the thought of perusing the weekend section of the Orange County, NY daily, the Times Herald-Record, searching for the very calendar listings that made me roll my eyes in the past, teen-style. In the lower Catskill region there are scores of weird-ass, redneck, Hasidic, quaint and otherwise inexplicable cultural offerings... and they all bear my potential byline.

The transformation is underway.