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Artists Without Borders.

This week’s graffiti is a reader submission from Michelle whose blog Still Not A Journal is fantastic and hilarious and great for those of us who’ve never been to the Southern hemisphere but hope someday to see Australia in all its deadly* glory.

australiangraffiti3What’s fascinating about these graffiti examples, though, is that they wouldn’t be out of place in any major city in the United States. Or Canada, or probably Europe. They raise an interesting question. What is it that makes so much graffiti aesthetically similar? Part of it is probably pragmatism—taggers have to work fast, which makes the size and multiple colors in these works even more amazing. Another aspect, though, is that I think—and I’m going out on a very narrow limb here—there’s a great deal of influence from the “New York look”. For a variety of reasons graffiti exploded across New York and other urban centers in the 1970’s, and while many regarded it as a public nuisance it was also considered by some to be a new art form. It helped, I think, that New York became a major world art center—arguably even the world art center—in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

australiangraffiti2This could, in part, be traced back to The Great Depression. The Works Progress Administration, started in 1935, hired artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem De Kooning, who would go on to found the Abstract Expressionist movement, centered in New York, and while the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s had partial origins in London its biggest successes would come out of New York—specifically Warhol’s Factory. And while graffiti was an art movement that started on the streets some of its practitioners—such as Basquiat, who’d work with Warhol, and Keith Haring–would move into studios and galleries.

australiangraffiti4So there’s a thumbnail version of about half a century of art history with the point that a lot of graffiti conforms to a specific aesthetic that may have started in one part of the world but has spread all over. And a shared “look” is a way artists compliment—and complement—each other. Every work of art is an individual expression but it’s also a collection of influences. Art is never created in a vacuum and, if it’s placed in a public place it’s meant to be enjoyed by a wide audience, and speak to a wide audience.

There’s the old saying that all politics is local. Grammatically speaking that should probably be all politics are local, but that’s another story. All art is also local too—but, just like with politics, what catches on in one part of the world can have profound implications for the rest of the world.

australiangraffiti1And now a little music to influence you.

*Great whites, jellyfish, spiders that scare even me, unrelenting desert, dingoes, Vegemite—Australia is a continent that takes Nietzsche’s principle of “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” and is determined to make the strongest people on the planet.  

And, hey, seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com.

Tourist Season.

Just once I’d like someone to ask me how to get to the Ryman Auditorium so I could say, “The same way you get to Carnegie Hall,” although the Ryman is also a former church so I could just as easily say, “Preach!”
I do get stopped frequently by people asking for directions. Once, less than fifty feet from West End, a guy asked me if I knew which way was West End. I just told him instead of being a smartass and saying, “West.” Another time as I was waiting to cross the street on my way back to work a car stopped next to me and a woman leaned out and asked how to get to the riverfront. I was a little surprised by the question–I thought it was fairly obvious. You just look for the skyline and head that way. Even though Nashville suffers from a great deal of sprawl–decades ago the city’s government merged with Davidson county to form one metropolis–the downtown area is pretty compact. The Tennessee Performing Arts Center, the downtown branch of the public library, Riverfront Park, the Centennial Sportsplex, and even the Ryman are within easy walking distance of the section of Broadway where you’ll find the infamous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and other honkytonks. Downtown Nashville has become a thriving tourist attraction which still tickles me. I remember when lower Broadway was a much seedier place where you’d find ladies of the evening in broad daylight, but that’s another story. Anyway I just pointed to the tall buildings that make up the skyline and told her to head for those. It reminded me of the time I was in Cleveland and left my directions to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in my hotel room. Rather than go back for them I remembered it was on Lake Erie so, like a baby sea turtle, I headed for the water. It was nice to be able to look around where I was going rather than looking down at directions.
And it’s lucky for me I get people asking me for landmarks rather than street names because I’m terrible at street names. This is partly my own fault. Decades of not driving and relying mostly on public transportation I haven’t really focused on street names. I can get around really well but if you ask me for directions to a place I’ll tell you, “Turn left at the building that looks like Batman,” but I couldn’t tell you what street its on. This is also partly the city’s fault. I’ve mentioned both West End and Broadway–two streets I do know, which is easy because they’re both the same street–one turns into the other, and if you head west on West End it then becomes Harding Road.
The only time I wasn’t really able to help someone who asked me for directions was when a young woman carrying a tuba case asked me where the Blair Music Library was. This was just outside JJ’s Coffee Shop, just a block away from Vanderbilt University. The Blair Music Library is part of Vanderbilt but on the farthest side of the campus from where we were. I gave her directions and was tempted to offer to help her carry her instrument, but I thought this might seem creepy coming from a complete stranger. And I figured a tuba player is prepared to go the distance, whatever it may be, even as far as Carnegie Hall.

 

Pride.

nashville

Source: Metro Nashville Government Facebook page. Photos by Mayor Megan Barry.

Sometimes when I see graffiti or street art I see desperation. I see someone who wants to speak, who has a need to share, but who has no other place to make a statement.

A few days after the horrific shooting in Orlando I walked down to a couple of blocks of Church Street in Nashville that are home to the clubs Tribe and Vibe, to Blue Gene’s, and Out Central, an information and meeting space for the LGBT community. There’s WKND, a “hang site” in the space that used to be Out Loud!, one of Nashville’s last independent bookstores. There’s also Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, owned and operated by former Top Chef competitor Arnold Myint. Suzy Wong is also Myint’s drag queen alter ego.

I went down there expecting to find memorials, tributes, handwritten statements—the kind of spontaneous expressions that spring up around a place when there’s a tragedy. I expected to find them because as soon as news came out about the shootings at Pulse, the gay nightclub, before we knew Omar Mateen’s identity or that he was a Muslim, before we knew what weapons he used, one fact was clear: this was an attack on LGBT people.

In LGBT Clubs in American History: Cultural Centers, Safe Spaces & Targets, an article in Billboard Magazine, Barry Walters says,

Since Stonewall and well before, gay clubs have been our schools, our places of worship. Nightclubs are where we’ve long learned to unlearn hate, and learn to become and love our real selves. They’re our safe spaces; places where music and dancing and the joy of our collective togetherness unlocks our fears and extinguishes our lingering self-loathing.

Closer to home I remembered the Nashville Scene article Last Call At Juanita’s, about the closing in 1995 of this city’s first gay bar, and its origin in 1953:

Shortly after Juanita’s opened, however, a former Leopard Room patron nervously drew Brazier aside one night to ask her a question. “Miss Juanita,” he is said to have asked, “would you have any problem with me bringing in some gay men?”

“Why, no!” Brazier supposedly responded, laughing. “I like everyone to be happy!” And thus Juanita’s became Nashville’s best-known haven for gay men—and, Nashville being a Southern city, Juanita Brazier was rechristened “Miss Juanita.”

I was surprised to find that area of Church Street looked the same as usual. The places there, I thought, are safe spaces for the LGBT community, places where people can go and be out in every sense of the word. I know the LGBT community isn’t monolithic, that it’s composed of individuals with different experiences and views–and that’s true of any “community”–but I still expected something.

Then I learned about an event I’d missed–a vigil in downtown Nashville, organized just hours after the shooting. It was organized with the help of Nashville’s mayor Megan Barry who took the pictures above. City and state buildings–buildings where, it should be noted, the rights of LGBT people are still under attack–were lit with the rainbow colors of the Pride flag. It may have been an attack on the LGBT community but the expressions of grief and condolence were offered by the larger community we’re all part of. It was a solemn reminder that LGBT people are not separate; they’re our friends, our family. And there are LGBT people of every race, every class, and, yes, every religion. For many faith is about how they love, not whom.

Maybe people didn’t feel a need to make statements on a couple of blocks of Church Street because so much of the city of Nashville, because the heart of the city of Nashville, was a place where people could come together openly.

Pride Month is a celebration primarily for LGBT people who have been excluded, shunned, and harassed, but to have such a public display of concern and solidarity was a chance for everyone to feel pride.

It’s Another Day.

IBEATCANCERIf I think carefully enough I can almost completely reconstruct June 17, 2014, in my mind. Conversations may not be strictly verbatim and the mileage may vary but I definitely remember going to get an ultrasound, something I’d been through before, although this time instead of examining my back I got a lot of goop smeared between my legs before a technician started shoving a large plastic scanner up there, which isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds even though we did have a pleasant chat about Minnesota, where she was from. And then I went in for a CT scan. Being shoved through a large metal doughnut while getting a warm feeling in my groin that made me think I’d lost all bladder control and being told by an automated voice to hold my breath was exactly as much fun as it sounds. And then my wife and I got in the car and headed home. I seriously underestimated the speed of current medical technology and figured it would be a week or two before we got the results, and if it was really bad news I assumed in a week or two my doctor would call me into his office for a somber, private chat which, as I’ve said, is how he and I both would have preferred it happen.

On the way home I worked to file all the day’s experiences away into my memory and trying to think of how to turn it into a funny story. It didn’t seem all that funny but I remembered the words of Steve Allen who said, “A comedian is not someone to whom funny things happen. A comedian is someone who sees things in a funny way.” And he even had an exercise for aspiring comedians: while driving keep up a running funny commentary of everything you see. I think that sounds like a great setup for a joke starting with, “So the officer asked me why I was driving through a hotel lobby”, but that’s another story.

And then, just a few blocks from home, my wife’s phone rang. She answered it and, although I try not to eavesdrop on other peoples’ phone conversations even when they’re in the same car with me, I could tell it was pretty serious. I was sweating even as my body went cold. I was on the verge of tears. That’s when she, on the verge of tears, told me I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Oh, I thought, what a relief. She’d been to the vet a couple of days earlier and I thought something was wrong with one of the dogs.

And the doctor had told her I had a blood clot in my leg and we needed to go to the emergency room immediately which is why he was delivering this news over the phone rather than in person.

That was the start of a long and strange trip that included the discovery that I did not have a blood clot after all. And it’s a trip that hasn’t ended yet but has helped me get reacquainted with my regular doctor whom I hadn’t seen for about three years before I went to see him about the pain in my leg. Before that if someone had asked me to describe him the best I could manage would be, “I think he’s tall.” He could have been in a lineup and the only one wearing a doctor’s coat and I’d still have had trouble picking him out. Now I’d recognize him if I just saw him out on the street as I walked by, babbling, “And there’s my regular doctor. Funny thing about him…” It’s also been a chance to meet a lot of nurses as well as an absolutely fantastic set of specialists: an oncologist, a cardiologist, most recently an endocrinologist, and just for fun I’m going to add an ichthyologist, a scatologist, and an exobiologist.

I’d been so certain that the tests wouldn’t show anything, or at least not anything major because I never get sick. Let me rephrase that: I never got sick. Before that day I had never taken more than two consecutive sick days at work and had approximately 57.9 years of sick leave banked, which was a good thing because I would spend most of the next five months out of work only to return for a brief spell and then have to spend six weeks out of work following major follow-up surgery.

I’ve told and retold this story and I keep retelling it because every day that passes makes it a little different. Every day that passes puts the day I was diagnosed, what my wife lovingly calls The Day From Hell, a little farther behind me. Technically I won’t be able to celebrate another year of being cancer free until September 22nd—but I can remember June 17, 2014, as the day when it all started. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact day when cancer decided I looked like an easy mark, but I know when the fight started, when I stepped into the ring for ninety-seven days of tests, surgery, chemotherapy, hair loss, weight gain, nausea—and that’s just the fun stuff.

This is something I can’t ever forget. It’s with me every day, but every day is another day that I’m alive and another chance to see things in a funny way.

Summer Blockbuster Quiz.

I have a lot to say about recent events but I’m not ready to speak about them just yet. That led me to wonder if I should simply stay silent. John Oliver’s preface to his show the other night made me think about that. In the wake of tragedy it may seem petty, even insulting, to try and make people laugh, but then I thought that without laughter we have no way of coping with tragedy. So, please, enjoy my stupid blog.

Deleted Scenes That Completely Changed Famous Movies—Summer Blockbuster Edition

1. “Welcome to my island resort! As you can see I’ve spared no expense providing every possible luxury. I hope to make it as big a success as possible. My accountant can’t see the sense in bringing some scientists here instead of trying to attract wealthier people, but I thought you lot and my grandchildren could help make the case that it’s open to everyone. Seriously, I need as many people as I can get. Lost billions on a major biotech project that looked promising but it turns out it’s just impossible to clone dinosaurs.”

2. “Hi, this is Dean Hoover at Faber College. I understand you and your colleagues have just lost your jobs at NYU. We’re starting up a parapsychology program of our own and we’re desperate for faculty. Would you be interested in coming to work for us, Doctor Venkman?”

3. “Thanks for giving me my dad’s old stuff. I know you’d like me to come with you but I really need to stay here and deal with the death of my aunt and uncle. They’re the only family I ever knew and I can’t just go off and leave the farm and everything else they worked so hard to build. Good luck on your mission Ben, um, I mean Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

4. “I’m sorry, they’ve decided they’re not going to fund the expedition after all.”

“Did they say why, Marcus?”

“Well, you know how these government bureaucrats are. There’s a chance of a war in Europe and they seem to think the money would be better spent on arms rather than going after a long lost cultural artifact.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just hope if the Nazis do find the Ark of the Covenant they don’t melt it down for gold.”

“By the way, Indy, is your father still doing Holy Grail research?

5. “Stay here and work on the farm. The seas are so dangerous right now. I have enough money put aside that we can marry now rather waiting. Won’t you please, Wesley?”

“As you wish.”

6. B-[EXT. REDWOOD FOREST. NIGHT.]

The alien spaceship, like a large onion or the top of a minaret, stands, in a clearing. A dozen or so short squat creatures amble around it. The hoot of an owl momentarily spooks them. Their hearts glow. They separate and explore the woods. One moves away from the group. Long alien fingers carefully pluck a sapling from the ground.

Suddenly trucks drive up nearby. Men in heavy boots wielding flashlights get out. They run into the woods, their lights slicing the darkness. They spread out. One of the aliens appears to be cut off. It runs through the forest emitting a piercing scream. The men cluster, following it. The alien backs up to a massive trunk. The men close in around it.

Then several of the aliens appear out of the surrounding undergrowth. The men are surrounded!

CUT TO

[INT. SPACESHIP.]

A pale beige interior. The floors and walls are covered with strange lumps like the beginnings of stalactites or stalagmites. The room is foggy. Clusters of collected Earth plants are scattered around the room. The men all lie unconscious on the floor.

Overhead two of the aliens look down. One turns to the other.

E.T.: Let’s cut one and see what happens.

Now it’s your turn to test your movie knowledge! Match the movies to their corresponding posters.

moviequizmoviequizkey

Moving Forward.

quartercentury

What should public transportation look like in twenty-five years? I’m not sure I want to even try to make a guess at that. I’m not sure what public transportation should look like in twenty-five months. Somehow my first experience riding a public bus has been lost in a sea of riding buses and other forms of public transportation for, well, a lot longer than twenty-five years.

Or has it? I wouldn’t exactly say I grew up sheltered but I didn’t ride a public bus alone until I was nineteen or twenty and in college. It was the easiest way to get to either of the two malls that were on the other side of town and it took forever for the bus to show up. It should have been more memorable but strangely it wasn’t, except for the time a guy got on and dropped a handful of pennies into the fare machine, but that’s another story.

When I was a kid we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut and commuted to New York City by train a few times, which absolutely amazed me. We were crossing, well, two states, but having grown up in Tennessee I was unused to crossing state lines in a short period of time. And it was probably comparable to, say, commuting from Clarksville, TN to Nashville, TN, which some people do on a daily basis.

In twenty-five years what will such commutes look like? It doesn’t look like flying cars will ever happen but self-driving cars might.

Being asked to speculate about what the future will be is more than a little daunting. That long ago I didn’t imagine I’d still be living in Nashville now. I assumed I’d be out exploring the world—and I did explore the world and continue to do so. But I’ve also found a lot to explore right here, without even crossing county, let alone state, lines. Transportation—public and private—can be a way not just to get from one place to another but to get to know a place.

What do you think the next twenty-five years will hold?

Show, Don’t Tell.

A few weeks ago Linda of Half A 1000 Miles sent me a link to a video description contest. The contest seemed pretty simple: write a narrative description of a short film for the visually impaired. I did that, after I watched the video three or four times and then paused it about every twenty seconds to stop and write out a description of what was going on. That may sound challenging and it is. Per the contest rules I tried to time the narrative to follow the action which meant I also stopped to read what I was writing out loud while watching what was happening on-screen.

And since this was aimed at the visually impaired I thought it would be best to avoid adjectives, especially colors. Depending on how and when they lost their sight, or how much sight they have, color may not mean anything to them. Or it might. And while I was emphasizing verbs which push a narrative along the value of adjectives is they slow a narrative down. It was a hard balance to strike.

It also reminded me that while a picture may be worth a thousand words a thousand words don’t necessarily add up to a picture.

That reminds me of the line parroted in every creative writing class I’ve ever taken: Show, don’t tell. No one seems to ever catch the irony that we’re never given examples, but that’s another story.

Anyway here’s the video. I think it’s very funny and clever and illustrates why I find graffiti so interesting much better than I can say.

Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com. I won’t call the cops on you or anything.

Ride Sharing.

My ride's here!

My ride’s here!

The chipmunks had struck again. I’d brought the car to the auto shop because the “Check engine” light had lit up. I hoped it would be a quick and easy fix because I had plans for the day, and in the past the solutions had sometimes been as simple as resetting the computer, or opening the hood and dropping it again so that whatever the rodents had knocked out of whack could be knocked back into whack. Not this time. The guy held out a rectangular plastic thingamabob, or perhaps it was a doohickey–I’m not up on my technical terms–with a tangle of cut wires sticking out of one end, like dreadlocks.

“We’re gonna have to put this up on the lift,” the car mechanic told me. He said some other things that I completely missed because I was so focused on how much he resembled J.K. Simmons, but that’s another story. He gave me a price quote that made my heart skip a beat and then a timeline that made it go into full arrhythmia. Time is money and there was no way I’d have enough to bribe him to make my problem go away in the next half hour. It looked like I was going to spend my day sitting at the auto repair place watching hours of the Guys Sitting At A Desk Talking About Football channel while reading last month’s Elegant Guys magazine (“the hyper-inflated whiskey and cliff-diving polo issue!”).

Then I heard one of the other mechanics talking to another customer and since neither of them resembled a character actor I could think of I was able to focus on their actual conversation.

“I can drive you up there and drop you off,” the mechanic said. “No problem.”

“There” was the nearby big-box store, although “nearby” is relative. Four miles might be reasonable walking distance if I weren’t concerned about time, and anyway the most direct route even hoofing it, or going on foot since I didn’t have any hooves handy, was the major heavily-trafficked road with almost no shoulder and the interstate entry and exit ramps that made pedestrianism slightly daunting.

On the bright side the big-box store’s parking lot was the terminus of a major bus line–and the closest stop. I asked if I could ride-share and was told to hop in.

Half an hour later I was on my way to the first of my errands, after I bribed a bus driver with the price of an all-day pass.