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Category Archives: Free Market

We Are All Aviators Now

Courtesy of TWAPilot.org

Like most of us I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. I recently rewatched Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Aviator, his story of billionaire industrialist and TWA owner Howard Hughes’ rise and fall. Hughes’ story of crippling anxiety to the point of madness is one all of us can relate to lately. Like the Spruce Goose, the large ungainly transport plane Hughes built for the military in the 1940s, each day we try to achieve enough airspeed to maintain our altitude above the preoccupations and anxieties surrounding us during the pandemic. These threaten to pull us back down to earth, trapping us in obsessive thoughts and worry that rob us of joy.

Many of my friends and colleagues are working ten hours, six days a week, fighting anxiety about their jobs, their families, their relationships, and their hopes for the future. I wake up usually after a bad nights’ sleep to face the prospects we all face, going through a litany of self-reassurance:

    • Health: Check
    • Money in the Bank (Enough for now)
    • Job (Some teaching gigs, recent interview)
    • Meaningful creative work (Both making and enjoying others’)
    • Meetings with friends (Virtually as necessary but craving facetime )
    • Fun

All those positive-thinking aphorisms have lost some of their shine. (Is it all good? Really?) We live in a world rife with uncertainty that pushes our fight-or-flight buttons. Yet our culture tends to place the responsibility solely on us as individuals for our mental health, pathologizing our struggles and human responses to the trials and tribulations of life merely as occasions for therapy and medication.

Hughes’ own struggles with OCD and anxiety drained him of happiness. In a tragic tale worth of Greek mythology his self-imposed quarantine alienated him from those he loved and who cared for him most. (The film’s account of Hughes’ relationship with Katharine Hepburn is heartbreaking.) His anxiety grew into a demon that devoured his life. Magazine accounts when I was younger described Hughes as a hermit afraid to go out, afraid of the touch of human warmth, who was reduced to shuffling about in Kleenex boxes. My horrified response then was ‘What a weirdo’. Now as we all struggle to counter our fear and isolation trying to maintain hope, I see him as a fellow traveler worthy of sympathy on the road we all face as human beings. — CDL

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Drawing from Experience

I teach language and write essays, scripts and fiction, so the narrative part of my brain gets a workout. As human beings we are wired for making sense of things through myths and stories. (See everything from The Odyssey to Aboriginal creation myths.) But sense-making through words has it’s limits. We now experience a daily cascade of messages ranging from talking heads on Youtube to news outlets who attempt to explain or comprehend the current convolution of events. At best these provide clarification and reassurance. At worst they scare and manipulate us. Many of the messages follow the same scripts – regardless of the fact that it’s obvious we need to revise them or create new ones.

Drawing for me provides a break from linearity and the compulsion to analyze and organize every of iota experience that literacy promotes, if not requires of us. Images exist for our hearts and brains to perceive and appreciate them as a whole. Like music, they resist reduction to discrete elements. Music is linear and spatial, happening over time and in an environment. But like all art, it creates an experience in our heart and soul, if we are open to it, that transcends our brain’s ability to analyze it.

In my travels, actual and virtual, when my brain feels overloaded, and I remember to take a sketch pad with me, I try to drop the analytical part and just see what’s in front of me. The following examples are from my travels in Latin America.

Above are a few informal examples from my time spent abroad in Latin America. Drawing provides another way of seeing the world. I’m not a professional artist. I’m not especially interested here in creating another commodity for what my friend Chris McGinnis calls the great productive machine of capitalism that turns everything we are and do now into a product. Rather, I’m interested in the process of apprehending the world through the unmediated visual act of seeing and the physical act of drawing. Virtual tools such as Zoom and Facebook have shown their use in allowing us to stay connected. The trade-off is that if we allow them to monopolize our experience, we miss being connected to the immanence of life and the world around us. — CDL

Not So Creative Commons

Many of us rely on the efforts of musicians, actors, painters and filmmakers these days to entertain us and fill the hours inside. Yet posts and articles abound lately about the challenges artists face finding forums for their work and getting paid. In a putative free-market economy, many of us take it for granted that musicians, artists, actors, writers and others of the creative class will continue to produce original work for the rest of us to be entertained and edified by, all the while struggling to pay their bills.

theatre-masks-drama-comedy-illustration-260nw-1266071665

Beyond this, there is the question of censorship. It is one thing if authorities in Hong Kong, or Moscow or even Washington D.C. take action to limit free speech. It is another if artists censor themselves, Creative expression depends on a willingness to confront uncomfortable, even politically-incorrect truths. The United States especially, like other liberal democracies, prides itself on a tradition of free speech without fear or reluctance to address difficult issues. Writers and artists produced work even under the emperors in ancient Rome. In the present polarized environment, this has become problematic.

Please see the following message from the director of a theater group canceling a sketch comedy performance on the eve of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Critical points are in bold. For the record, the performance parodied both candidates, as well as other political figures (including someone whose name starts with ‘P’ in Russia). The writer made the requested revisions. The reason given for canceling was not the quality of the script, but that the performers were not comfortable with the subject in the current political climate. We are all living with the results of the election. We’ll never know the consequence or worthiness of the performance.  — DA

11/9/16: 11-19 Opening Sketch Post-Election

Thank you for sending the updated script of the sketch and everything – I’ve read over it and like it a lot with the adjustments.

Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a mess here. My actors are protesting performing the sketch. They are not comfortable doing anything Trump related currently, and are saying that they will not perform in the show if we perform said sketch.

As a producer, this is a really hard call for me. I love working with new and local artists and also the time that we have devoted to doing the sketch already, I would want to put it up on its feet to showcase your writing/work with all of the hard work and thought you put into it.

Due to the circumstance that I am in, combined with the issues with my actors/performers, we may have to put this sketch on hold and not perform it in November.

I apologize sincerely with this news – it feels as though it is the safest one to make currently. We would love to possibly have another sketch for another month in the future, though, that we could possibly do. I will be the one, if needed, to post on social media or any other source stating that we won’t have the sketch, but I doubt that it will be necessary.

Please let me know possibly if you have a sketch or anything you’d like to put up for December or January – that would be the best bet and I am sure after a month, things will have cooled down a bit since at least some time has passed.

My sincerest apologies and best,

On Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 5:05 PM ___ wrote:

Please see attached first take allowing for the Donald’s election. Starts page 14. I’ll work up another ‘just a dream’ version. I’ll send tomorrow and we can decide.

You familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?   The BBC radio version from the late 70s/80s is is online and is outstanding .

Remember: Don’t panic, and always carry a towel.

Open to the Good

An update from one of our associates in Latin America. – DA

The C-virus put the hammer down like Thor in the Vikings series for the time-being on plans to go RV-camping in the U.S.. So we are are focusing on plans closer to home. Very close. Not only are flights out restricted, I’m told we are restricted from even going outside our apartment, pending a three-hundred dollar fine and arrest. So we do exercises and yoga, drink wine, fix good food, read and watch Netflix. Sex gets a pretty good thumbs-up, too.

IMG_20200318_134311377

Chana Masala, in Case You Were Wondering (And we have to replace those place-mats.)

IMG_20200318_201428752

Sincere experts and virtue-signaling harpies on the web give us advice to focus on the positive – exhorting us to breathe, eat and improve ourselves to make a gift of our enforced isolation. At the same time social media has given rise to a cottage industry emphasizing the current mayhem of the world and pushing our fear buttons. This is nothing new, as evidenced by Old Testament fixations on blood and revenge, prognostications revealed to the Greeks in the intestines of animals, murder and alarm in the penny press of Dickens’ day and the Hearst papers’ yellow journalism. Human beings love a good disaster, real or presumed. It makes us feel virtuous if we survive.

I refuse to be guilted or shamed for acknowledging what is in front of my face based on fifty-plus years of experience. And honestly, the hype and continuous doom-saying vying with those preaching unthinking optimism in these latter days grows a trifle boring. A therapist I visited a few years back when I was in the midst of darkness gave me advice I cherish every day: try to remain open to the good. So here goes.

After a few false starts I found a gig teaching conversational English for non-native speakers. Teaching draws on my background in education, theater and writing. More than that, I enjoy it. It allows me to get paid for bullshitting part of the time.1 One of my students is a young man about my son’s age. I’ll call him Juan. Juan runs his own IT consulting business and is good at what he does. His customers include banks, businesses and government agencies. Juan often texts me saying he’s running a few minutes behind, which is pretty de rigueur  for business owners. We’ve developed a good rapport that includes being flexible on time.

I bring in exercises Juan and I work on covering diction, pronunciation and fluency. English is a weird amalgam of Latin and German with a few other languages thrown in. Juan, who has a Ph.D. from a business school in Italy, often has specific questions on expressions and idioms. We have fun tracking down word origins and meanings. His questions often prompt me to draw on outside resources on the web and elsewhere. Apparently there was a reason for my reading Partridges Etymological Dictionary twenty years ago. I also get to practice diagramming sentences, something I actually enjoyed in school.

English may be lingua franca for business (for now), but English is not simply English. Juan conducts conference calls with customers in the U.S., Canada, the UK and India, as well as Brazil and Argentina. His English reading and writing skills for emails and business documents are excellent. But sorting out what is being said and expressing ideas verbally over the phone, with different accents and often without the benefit of facial expressions and body language, can be a challenge. So we focus on his enunciation as well as listening skills.

Juan surprised me early on by telling me he was interested in children’s stories rather than simply business English and technical jargon. He wants to help his two young daughters as well as help his business. So we’ve added Dr. Suess and Beatrix Potter into the mix. My mother read books by these authors and others to my brothers and sister and me when I was a kid. I, in turn, read them to my two children. Reading aloud confers a special bond. Wordplay and rhyme allow the gift of quality time and interaction between parents and kids.2 I’ve talked to my mother about this and thanked her. I’m honored to pass the gift on.

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1Thanks to Andrew Hearle at Stagemilk for encouragement and ideas.

2See Walter Ong’s, Orality & Literacy, as well as Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading.

On Volunteering at Quillette

Please see a new essay published by our Director of Outreach, Chuck Lanigan, at Quillette, titled Something for Nothing — the Importance of Mindful Volunteering . — DA

Those Who Can

After twenty-seven years working in a corporate environment in the U.S., a colleague has taken a job teaching in a different country. He has left his own country, his own language, to travel 8000 miles away.

I am intimidated at the prospect of teaching kids who have grown up in a different culture with a different language. But they want someone to teach them English and other skills necessary to compete in the global economy. My friends here are supportive. But I am a guest. I have spent months (and a chunk of change) getting a visa, having my CV translated, becoming familiar with the customs, and gaining a basic knowledge of the language.

In the West we seem increasingly preoccupied over the complications and dangers of living in the civilization we have created over the last 2000 years. A lot of ex-pat sites on the web extol the virtues of living in a supposedly simpler third- (or second-) world country.

For all the benefits — and there are benefits, not the least of which is the weather here — the society around me has absorbed some of the worst lessons from the West. These include toxic consumerism, idolatrous worship of technology oblivious to its dysfunctional effects, and a view of urban development that still equates progress with larger cities, more cars and more buildings.

More Buildings

Competing for the Ugliest Building in the World


So why did he leave?

I spent years doing office work related to IT trying to convince myself (and allowing myself to be convinced) that it was meaningful labor. It’s increasingly evident it was a vain pursuit for a paycheck to support someone else’s bottom line. This was achieved by treating employees and customers as commodities. My ideas, goodwill and efforts were ultimately wasted to perpetuate the vast shell game of corporate capitalism.

What about volunteering? Or joining a commune, if he is against capitalism?

I’m not against capitalism practiced on a human scale. And I’m not a fan of communism, which historically has led to its own depredations. The fact  is in the West we recognize the value of work by paying for it. I and those close to me have volunteered in the past, teaching literacy, working with the homeless, and assisting with various causes. In some cases these efforts have enabled the very dysfunction they seek to ameliorate. I’ve paid my dues. At this point I want to be compensated for my time, talent, effort and experience. I want to enjoy what I do and feel rewarded. Plus, I can use the money. (The cost of living here is more modest, but not nonexistent.)

And will teaching accomplish that? Colleges and universities are tied up in knots nowadays over political correctness and questions about their relevance. Public schools are threatened as safe havens for children to learn and be nurtured. Society seems to celebrate being unenlightened and anti-intellectual. The public itself are increasingly treated merely as marks to be exploited by rampant consumerism and venal politicians.

I’ve passed my sixth decade and my life is still a work in progress. I look at this as an experiment. I’ve committed to the coming year. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t admit to being intimidated. The kids I’m teaching range from 11 – 14. The subjects covered in school range from English and history to humanities and science. As adults these kids will make decisions that will affect not only their own lives, but the direction their society (and maybe the world) takes. My desire is to instill some knowledge and perspective that will help them live their lives with a sense of agency. Why not try?

— DA

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A Wild Demise

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been …

— John Keats

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

 

Thanks to Facebook Business for reminding us, no matter what (fire, flood, earthquake, chemotherapy, ecstasies, epiphanies, personal crises, or a bad day), we must produce fresh content for their – I mean our — ‘customers’:

Hi Valued Advertiser,

People visiting Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies haven’t heard from you in a while. Write a post or share a photo or video to keep people engaged.
Thanks,

The Facebook Ads Team

We unsubscribed from FB’s services a year ago. In any event I am happy to say my imminent demise has been exaggerated, so that I can share this blast from the past. Ladies & gentlemen (and everyone in between), please see a link to the Connections series from the 70s created and hosted by James Burke, and available on the Internet Archive, Enjoy. – DA.

 

We Need Some Human Help

Welcome to the Valentine’s Day installment.

We navigate our days these days watched and prodded by our non-human talismans of technology1. These constant companions prompt us with questions or suggestions under the guise of being interactive. One not-so-subtly pops up on my phone lately, like an annoying partner in an old comedy routine (Didya see, didya see? What? Huh? What? Huh?), with the ironic phrase We need some human help.

Knowing our days are numbered to a suddenly-definable sum (whether the Biblical three-score and ten, shorter or longer) focuses our attention remarkably on what is important and what is not. Having been informed that I am scheduled to leave this earth sooner than I planned, I confess to a certain sensitivity to having my time wasted. In the past year I have confronted what seems more than my share of dysfunctional officials, health insurance that fails to reassure, and medical care that feels anything but caring. I know I’m not the only one facing an individual Gethsemane, but since when has that been a real consolation? I have watched my friends and acquaintances at home and abroad wishing the cup would pass for all of us: the lady whose son was diagnosed with schizophrenia last year, a former colleague staying in a dissatisfying job for the health insurance, men and women seeking love and connection amidst the wasteland and darkling plain of fraught relationships. For some it proves too much to endure. We try to live our lives with a modicum of peace and happiness amidst Dickensian bureaucracy allied with bad technology, dysfunctional workplaces [bullshit jobs, ‘open’ offices], alienated lives and absurd trappings of so-called civilization. Human help indeed.

In your life you will know trouble, Jesus said, a phrase curiously absent from the dogma of positive thinking. Like too much sugar, being optimistically (if not relentlessly) positive can sweeten the appreciation of life or make it almost intolerable. Troubles exist in our lives whether we are rich or poor, privileged or marginalized, mentally-challenged or on the genius scale.

There are plenty of reasons to feel cynical and hopeless amidst the dehumanizing juggernaut of technology and capitalism, including an apparent media obsession with bad news and human failure. But being optimistic does not mean suspending our critical faculties or our humanity. I think it’s about time we fessed up, set aside our fear (or meanness or just plain obliviousness which technology so easily aids and abets2) and did what we can to ameliorate or sympathize with, rather than marginalizing, fellow human beings.

I don’t much care if you text, blog, tweet, e-mail or use a carrier pigeon. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes writes about the dilemma of globalization and the need for human (and local) connection. Globalization and technology used exclusively in the service of profit threaten to undermine our sense of agency and make individuals feel expendable. If community is to be more than a marketing ploy and love not just a slogan, the primary job each of us in this world of our creation is to take back hope from the ashes and connect to our own hearts and the hearts of others . ### — DA

1See Shoshanna Zuboff’s recent, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

2See emotional deskilling.

Words & Pictures

There seems to be an overabundance of words recently: describing, explaining and inflaming our reactions to events from those in my previous home town to politics, to immigrants at the border.

Words seem to have lost their power to change anything. My own are no exception.

Emails, tweets, texts, blog entries, advertisements demand our attention this time of year and encourage us to buy and consume. We’ve all become desensitized to loquaciousness.

We send words out into the void, hoping for an intelligent reply, an acknowledgement from the common mass of men and women that we are not alone. Yet our own intimate conversations suffer. It’s obvious words have their limits. So I am drawing the birds in our garden.

Hummingbirds hover in the bamboo and sip nectar from the flowers. Doves land like B-52s and strut around like they own the place.

A pair of male and female gorriones (house sparrows) arrive each morning hopeful of finding breakfast if the doves haven’t eaten it all.

I stopped drawing and painting when I was younger, frustrated by a lack of skill and afraid of being a dilettante. The word dilettante is close to the more positive word amateur, with its root in the Latin amatore. You could do worse than to do a thing motivated by passion and love.

Drawing provides a different way of seeing. Cellphones allow us to collect images without looking, look without seeing. In our obsession with immediacy and sharing, we lose the interest and capacity for reflecting and appreciating the world around us in our own hearts and minds.

We all want to create and maintain an image of ourselves in the eyes of others. But our desire to be heard and noticed competes against all the other images and undifferentiated content, including cat videos.

At the same time our institutions seem increasingly in the hands of dilettantes, men and women who pursue politics, business, education and the arts serve mainly to fill their own hollowness; fulfilling an image but not the reality.

The Roman Empire fell because its citizens failed to create and support the substance beneath their institutions. Governing was given over to amateurs, or worse. The society maintained the image of civilization until reality intervened in the form of Goths, Vandals and internal corruption.

The Romans left behind wonderful sculptures, architecture, roads and aqueducts, and some not bad literature and theater. But ultimately their civilization failed to endure. – CDL

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