Category Archives: Thought

sapiens emeritus?

I take a small dose of reality by reading the paper for a few minutes in the morning with my coffee and muffin.

Today’s news was the UN’s report on climate change.

Oh, and, if that weren’t enough there was the article on how the US thinks Russia may be attacking CIA agents and diplomats (there’s a difference?) in Havana, with illness somehow done via microwaves.

I definitely felt I’d overdosed on reality and I attempted, unsuccessfully,  to escape to a jigsaw puzzle.

Is our species hell-bent on its own destruction?

Who the hell left us humans in charge of the planet?

 

Turing Test

Turing Test

We are quick to apply the “Turing Test” from computer science — that something  could be created so brilliantly complex that, without a strand of DNA, it could pass for human. We  jump to the conclusion that it’s plausible to attribute conscious to electronic things with simulated skin— the sci-fi trope that such a thing could emulate sexuality, perhaps even the full range of human feelings.

Many find this a frightening prospect…which is why it works so well as a plot device.

But matter does not become conscious on account of its complexity. We don’t consider a cuckoo clock with intricate gears to be more conscious than a sundial. Moving from mechanical to electronic changes nothing. We don’t think our digital clock knows what time it is, even if the clock is infinitely more complicated than, say, a phone charger. No amount of complexity, no skill at mimicking make a conscious being.

A perfectly decent person who is an actor can convincingly play a vicious murderer.

This sci-fi trope can be unnerving because it seems there’s nothing that separates a being that exists and feels from one that only simulates experiencing. 

It’s perhaps another indicator of the fragility of our sense of our humanity that can feel so tenuous in this tremulous time.

Arts and the pandemic

In addition to all the terrible blow of the pandemic and its handling, the separation of artist from audience is a form of damage that the human spirit finds hard to bear. Yes, thankfully, new modes of artistic communication emerge.  But it is not a simple matter.

To put it a different and perhaps more scary way, the struggle of art to express itself and for us to express ourselves through art, to satisfy our own need to creatively communicate, is being suffocated not only by the pandemic, but by our culture giving up on itself.

Theater, music, dance, painting, sculpture, literature, poetry and every other human creative endeavor are there to challenge, to open the mind,  when it is so much easier to just not bother. Why open a book? Why act in or go to a play? Learn an instrument, join a band? So much easier to let one’s pod take over a la The Body Snatchers and let creative energies fade.

And to exist in more than the creator’s ego, there must be an audience, a community of those who appreciate what the creator strives to do.  

And here is the great struggle for us in the pandemic. Not just to exist but to do something that satisfies the soul. For most artists that means doing something that affects someone else, that moves the other, the unites people through the act of creation.

We let go of this too easily.  We take its loss too lightly.

Many, many artists, at the same time as fighting for their health and economic survival, suffering these days. Many find outlets, moments of expression and sharing. We must find more.

An uneven evenness

The pandemic, as the word is meant to connote, affects everyone. It is universal, but is not even. It affects the poor, the imprisoned, the aged in nursing homes, pregnant women, and on and on, very different from those who are, relatively speaking, insulated: by class, by race, by where they are in the world at this moment.

Some things have happened for those fortunate enough not to be crushed by the disease or the fallout from it, that are actually new and worth thinking about.

Art in particular changes. The museums,  galleries and theaters of all sizes are closed in most of the world.  There is an evenness that I think nearly all artists feel: We need each other. Art is a relationship between creator and audience, despite the way artists may try to separate themselves from the their audience, thumb their noses, say “I don’t care what you think.”

Yet without the audience the artist creates in a vacuum and communicates to a vacuum.

So we find novel ways . Our need to communicate our creative spirit finds new routes of expression, new avenues to sharing.

 

 

Cult of Laughter

There was a group that used to get together just to laugh. One person started laughing and soon everyone did. What if we all laugh together at 5PM EVERY WEDNESDAY?

Maybe the contagion of laughter could break through our contagion of isolation and dread!

 

 

 

After the first shock…

After the first shock of what has already happened around the world and what is too soon going to happen nearer and nearer to ourselves and friends and family dear to us, there is the realization that this is going to be a long haul.

It quickly became a cliché the 9-11 “changed everything,” and indeed in was a truism that proved to be true and now no one can doubt that this pandemic changes everything.

As a person deeply involved in local theater – running the Hooker-Dunham and planning a big Bloomsday event scheduled for June 16  – I feel the rug pulled from under me.

I know how much worse it is for so many people, so it’s hard to let oneself feel the pain of one’s own  loss, but it is a loss all the same.

So while the losses are worse for some than others, for all of us, are deeply personal.  The sense of suspended animation,  of life-interrupted is with all of us now.

 

Accepting reality; Bloomsday must wait

Most who know me would say that I’ve never been one to accept reality.  The current reality is not really ignorable…and shouldn’t be ignored because of the degree personal careless becomes another person’s nightmare.  Taking social distancing seriously seems to me the least we should all do.

This is rough in many ways. particularly so far as running a theater is concerned. For my little theater – the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery – the economic impact of having expenses that don’t change with no money comi; g in means it’s all loss (rather than  a break-even proposition it’s planned to be), but honestly this impact is the least of it and, compared to the economic pain so many are experiencing now, it’s nothing. I feel for the theaters for whom the damage is far, far greater.  Nearly all the area theaters are non-profits, but have staffs whose only income is their salary.

Getting one’s creative juices flowing by acting, directing, producing shows is something that keeps us all going. While people are coming up with creative on-line solutions, nothing quite makes up for the immediacy of an audience’s interaction with a performance and that just isn’t possible now. Even small rehearsals, just to use the time we now have on our hands, is not advisable as the community level of infection ramps up.

So far I have cancelled everything at the theater, even the two person rehearsals in preparation for my Bloomsday event (June 16). It’s increasingly looking like we will be struggling with this into the summer even in a best-case scenario. We will hold Bloomsday WHENEVER we are able to open again.  Then day of our opening will be our Bloomsday!

 

 

 

 

Oh my god

Is humanity’s existence, human civilization’s existence always precarious?

We – humans – have survived for quite a long time despite our remarkable ability to not learn from our own species’ experience. Or learn too late, which amounts to the same thing.

Now everything is upside down. All the plans and expectations are topsy-turvy.

I’ve always steered away from actually blogging — meaning blogging where I’m not editing before posting. But now, with the world in what is obviously only the beginning of a transformation on the order of science fiction, I might as well just put it out there.

I’ve heard friends who’ve started writing journals. Same thing really. We are all crying, we say, too ourselves, for  ourselves, and it is true.

The earth is shuddering.

We are all at the epicenter.

 

Just coming back to blogging: Bloomsday in Brattleboro is coming

…I’d stopped for a long while, mostly because it seemed more seeds blown into the wind and for the less existential reason that I switched who was hosting my site. So this is the first post with the new host.

For the moment, I’ll call it my Bloomsday Blog, because I think my focus for a bit will be on putting on this “event” at the Hooker-Dunham Theater on June 16, 2020.  Bloomsday in Brattleboro.

For someone like me who likes to read Ulysses and gradually come to understand it, to visualize what Joyce is writing, to have the characters speak for themselves, is incredibly exciting. It brings a whole new dimension to the book.

So I put together a “script.” I say “put together,” not “wrote” because the words are nearly all those of James Joyce, not me.  I’ve chosen a few moments out of the thousands of moments in the book in the hope that they tell a story of Ulysses knowing that there are so many other stories that could be told and so many other ways to tell them.

But the event is first and foremost a celebration of the written word. Here, as elsewhere in the world where Bloomsday is celebrated, it is the spoken word we celebrate.

Ulysses was banned in the United States and England for being obscene or incomprehensible or both.  Distribution was prohibited and copies of the book were burned from its birth in 1922 until Justice Woolsey of the Southern District of New York, ruled its favor in 1933.

Getting a group of actors with strong voices to read a series of excerpts I’ve stitched together has been very exciting.  Ulysses is an amazing novel,  but also one that can be quite intimidating. I’m hoping our show will display enough of its essence that our audience will feel they spent their time well.

So we’re off and running. Tuesday, June 16, is coming up faster than we think here in the middle of Vermont winter.

 

Twitterspeak

We, meaning people who would generally consider things like compassion and empathy more important than power and privilege, need to talk more to each other, and talk more fully, not limiting our conversations to chunks of 140 characters and pleas donations and signing petitions.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any mode we choose, but just that they shouldn’t be limits, that the conversation must go much deeper.

Words, words, words, what’s the matter with words? We need more of words, many more words.  Ah, but who will read them?

 

 

 

Ironic, isn’t it?

As a child, I dreamed of being an old man.  I think lots of kids had dreams like that, fantasies, even reveries.  I think of the first character I played on stage was Giles Corey (an old man who’s a victim of the witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). I think of “altacocker,” the Yiddish word I remember hearing my father say and “Der Alte,” what they called the German politician Konrad Adenauer.

Now, as I get older, I dream of being that kid again, of being that kid who dreamed of being an old man.

Also: Added new thought on learning lines/music from actor/musician’s perspective.

 

American Democracy at the Crossroads

American Democracy at the Crossroads

When I was in college many decades ago, I remember being struck by what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about what had emerged as the United States’ “experiment” in democracy. He saw in the U.S. governmental structure an interpretation of “majority rules” that frightened him. He saw the possibility that an electoral majority might so dominate that it could do whatever it wanted. An electoral majority could then abrogate nearly all rights and needs of everyone else.  He foresaw that the “winner take all” aspect of our system could have drastic consequences to those who lost key electoral battles, so that a relatively small electoral majority — a problem amplified yet further by the separation of electors from the popular vote — could so dominate governance that the people as a whole could be largely disenfranchised and a small elite could run roughshod over the needs of the many.

The Constitution attempts to ameliorate this danger with two key elements: The doctrine of the separation of powers, embodied in the three branches of government, and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.  Recent events, beginning with the overall domination of the Republican Party over such a long stretch of time that the Supreme Court is only marginally an “independent” force, gerrymandering has all but guaranteed control of the House of Representatives, and the removal of all fetters on the ability of wealth to determine electoral power, has left vast numbers of people who live in the United States with nearly no control over the  governmental decisions that most crucially shape their lives.

Decades of struggle for the rights of women, for racial equality, for worker unification in unions, for humane reactions to those whose political and economic necessities have driven them to immigrate without government approval, for liberalization of draconian drug laws, for quality education regardless of wealth, for health care as a human right — all this and much more has been either driven back or is more threatened today than ever before. Some causes have fared better than others, but overall, we, the people, are less free, less able to control our own destinies, have less confidence that our children will have greater opportunities than we had, and on and on, all because of the ability of a small group to leverage its wealth and power into utterly dominating the masses of people.  As bad as this has been for the majority of the American populace, it has been yet more devastating to the most vulnerable members of our society.

Much as people who consider themselves progressives, including me, focus their fear and outrage on Donald Trump. This is, I would say, appropriate, as he is more than merely a symptom of how far our “democracy” has sunk. Each day, he strikes out against all who stand in his way. He goes beyond exploiting a narrow-minded worldview, but actively incites hateful attitudes toward women, towards immigrants, toward environmentalists, towards “liberals,” toward poorer countries of the world as though they were the cause of every person’s miseries.

This is not the democracy “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” but increasingly an oligarchy of extremely wealthy people. Sadly, a very large percentage of the most privileged seem to measure their wealth by increasing the gap of wealth and privilege.  Our democracy becomes still more of a “corpocracy” where the magnates of corporations maneuver to control everything from abortion rights to gun laws to immigration.

The struggle is not over. People of good will continue to fight for human dignity. No, it’s not just about Trump — though he certainly epitomizes and leads the charge for the value system that puts accumulation of wealth and privilege (including the “privilege” to disparage others) first and everything else cast aside. It’s about trying to make U.S. democracy truly democratic.

We all have a lot of work to do.