Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Copying Steve.

My friend Steve has been blogging about his self improvement projects. Well, to be fair, he has been blogging about a lot of things, blogging is one of the things he has been doing as a self-improvement project. I realize that there are many things that I should be doing also, things to keep myself from wasting away during the summer months, and things that kind of align with what he's doing. Steve is doing an out-and-out blog-every-day report-on-his-progress, but I'm not quite sure I'm ready for that. Instead, I'm just going to identify the things I'm working on and maybe you'll hear about them again, and maybe you won't. But if you want to ask me about them, that'd be fine.

Steve is learning German. I want to learn French. Coincidentally, I borrowed a book for doing just that from a different friend also named Steve. And maybe last year I had planned on doing 15 minutes of a lesson every day. I should get on doing something similar.

Steve plays the clarinet. I play the bass. Well, I play a lot of things, poorly. (Steve plays a lot of things well. Music is just sort of his thing.) I've owned an electric bass for some years now, and my friend Mike showed me some things on it about a year ago. I diddled around with it but kind of gave up because I can't do the slap-pop thing. That was foolish. I've picked it back up recently with a little more seriousness because I figured out how to play Hey by the Pixies in about 2 minutes. I've been trying to convince my friend Lizzie to cover it with me.

Steve is exercising. A few years ago....2008 to be exact, I started jogging with my friend Beth. We went about three times a week, jogging maybe 2 miles. We would finish it off with a heaping dose of Six Feet Under, and our jogs were filled with conversation to the point where it wouldn't even be at the forefront of my mind that we were exercising. People complimented me and asked me if I was losing weight. I really hate my gut and since Beth has moved away, I've really not been jogging....hardly at all. I need to get back into this. I've gone about once a month since the snow melted. Here's hoping that speaking openly about it will convince me to go more.

Steve is reading. I read a fair amount as it is, but I don't want to give that up. Right now I'm reading Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as well as You Are Not A Gadget. But you've seen my goodreads, so this isn't news to you.

Steve is blogging and sleeping. I've been blogging a little more now that the weather is nice for some reason, but my other thing is less related to copying Steve....and more related to copying Lucy Knisley, Jess Fink, Liz Prince, Erica Moen, et. al. I want to start drawing comics. I've discussed this with Corinne and Caroline, and they've done things that I drool over. I know that I just need to start drawing and struggle my way through the crap. I made a separate blog to post these, but I'm not sure that I want to open it up to a wide audience yet, so I'll just repost things here as I see fit. Here's a preview. My friend Travis has me reading Questionable Content, and I feel very mixed about it. I decided to start at the beginning, because that's what I do, and it's really interesting to see how his drawing style has progressed. But that is the one thing that bothers me about the comic -- the drawing style. It's very computer based, and it FEELS that way. I'm much more interested in comics that are hand drawn and beautiful. I had this conversation with Luke ...probably in 2008. I said that if a graphic novel was beautifully drawn, it didn't matter if the story was crap. He felt the opposite way. He also said "geeze, hire yourself a writer!"
So Questionable Content falls more on Luke's side of the argument, and maybe that's why I've read the first 82 strips in the past few days...because it's well written. Oh well, I hope my comics will document my progress as well...and, oh, did I mention the summer course I'm taking? Yeah.

I'll also be traveling a bit and working some this summer, but that's less about copying Steve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Image This Caption

I often see people presenting awkward pictures and asking others to "caption this image," the goal typically to be to find the most humorous tagline. I think it'd be interested to work this the other way around, this asking you to be creative in a different way. The parameters, if you choose to accept them, are to find or create an image, either by drawing, painting, photographing, googleimaging, scanning something, whatever, that best depicts the caption given. I guess this is like an opposite of exploding dog. sort of.

Your caption:
I hope this makes you happy. It's making me happy.

Thanks to my unsuspecting muse.

Email me your images, I'll feature my favorite in an edit: chateauofadoubt@gmail.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

Synecdoche, New York: Some Thoughts


Warning: may contain mild spoilers. Not that there were any big reveals anyhow.

I have wanted to see the movie Synechdoche, New York for some time, but this was mostly because a portion of the movie was set in Schenectady, New York where both of my parents grew up, and where I work some days. I was reminded of the movie whilst in Schenectady, actually, substituting and watching Akeelah and the Bee (a movie I'm going to need to watch all the way through sometime soon). Of course, the Bee referred to in this title is a spelling bee, and one of the words given was Synecdoche. They even defined it for you:





I went to the library to look for some other movies my friend says I need to see. Though I was unsuccessful at finding most of those, I did stumble across Synecdoche, New York on the recently returned cart.

Along with Beeswax and Dead Poet's Society, I brought Synecdoche, New York to my parent's camp on Saturday to try and watch with them. Though none of them really seem like films my mom would be into, she said she was interested in watching Synechdoche, New York as well....essentially for the same reasons I was.

The movie started out like many movies that have film festival seals on the case. This is not an indication of anything. I've seen this type of movie and fallen in love, I've seen this type of movie and have felt robbed of my time.

As the film progresses, you begin to get the sense that Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, Caden, is a little crazy and/or neurotic. The first impression that I got from him is that he is a hypochondriac, but this is not really supported by his visits to the doctor, as each doctor he visits recommends he see an entirely different sort of specialist, making ridiculous suggestions with the utmost sincerity. Things really begin to get bizarre when his therapist sells him a book (one that she wrote, one that she charges him forty dollars for). As he begins to skim through it, the information within seems stream-of-consciousness and almost nonsensical. As he reads on, reality becomes dictated by the book. As Caden reads, it is narrated by the voice of his therapist. He sits on an airplane and reads: "There is only the now, and I am always with you. For example, look to your left." When he does so, his therapist is sitting across the aisle from him. In a tone indicating complete sincerity, she says: "Hi. When you canceled, it freed me up, so I'm traveling too." It is at this point that I'm reminded of the movie Fight Club as well as A Beautiful Mind. I start to wonder how and why Caden is crazy, and when we will find out the parameters of this. Caden never seems to question his dream-like reality, and when scenes don't include Caden, the other characters don't seem to question it either. Perhaps the most bizarre scene in the entire film was when Hazel was looking to buy a house, a house which was currently on fire. It's worth watching. I'd have cut this clip a tiny bit shorter, but I'm sure it's not even supposed to be on the internet, so I won't complain:



Caden, who works in theater in Schenectady (if it weren't for the cellphones and newspaper dates reading 2006, I would believe it could have been set in the sixties) receives a large grant to work on a project that he plans to make brutual, true and honest. Time passes and locations change, but these facts are not pointed out and must instead be gathered. The way that these things change, almost unnoticed, I feel gives the film a quality that truly IS lifelike. It's like that Talking Heads song. You know the one. Caden starts his theater project in a large warehouse in New York City, attempting to depict reality. Things begin to get really complicated as he casts people to play the people doing the casting, and then goes on to cast people to play the people that were cast to play the people doing the casting. There is also a warehouse built inside the warehouse with the entire set built inside this. The layers keep piling up and the work for the piece never seems to be done. No one ever really comes to see the piece, but that does not seem to negate its relevance as art. This very much fits into my own personal definition of art, and I thought of recommending the film to my friend who defines art by saying: "I know it when I see it." If you are never able to see it, is it not art? I decided not to specifically recommend the film to him, as I am beyond done having the definition-of-art discussion with him, and I think this film poses more questions than it answers.

The viewer never finds out whether Caden is crazy or dreaming or what, and before you know it, nearly forty or more years have passed. When the film ended I was neither disappointed not extraordinarily fulfilled, but I don't feel that this was a problem. The film was so incredibly layered and textured that even though I have stated many plot details, I don't feel I have spoiled the film at all. It is a movie that I could easily watch several times for a new experience each time and probably one that I should own. Throughout the movie, Caden keeps coming up with new titles for his piece, each of them seemingly obtuse. He keeps stating the importance of the title, and how much is contained within. The word synecdoche, to my knowledge, is never mentioned within the film, and I can't help but consider the title as an important element to this movie. A part that represents the whole, or a whole the represents the part. Well, certainly Caden's warehouse world is a part that represents the larger world, and each smaller part representing the larger, and on and on. Each character playing another character is acting a part that represents the whole of the character the actor is playing, and I think that the whole work represents its part: Caden, the creator. I'm sure if I contemplated this further I could find deeper significance for the title of the film. For now, however, I'll just say: make sure you see it. It's one of those films that sits with you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your FACE is boring.

I'm not sure what is worse: Art-0n-a-cart or Music-In-The-Gym.

One of the districts I sub in has recently converted a lot of old catholic schools into public elementary schools, and these schools are really not adequate. Today I subbed in a school for a music teacher, and I was directed to his "area," a corner of the gym. I mean, he had a chalk board, a TV/DVD player, 25 folding chairs (which I had to set up), a small table and red tape on the floor indicating his "classroom." In his plans he left instructions that the students are to come in and stand on a line until they are all quiet. The first class that comes in has a few students that just can't keep it together. Everytime I think that the class is going to quiet down enough for me to invite them to sit in chairs a few kids freak out. Instead of wasting the whole class's time, I decide to separate the kids who are giving a lot of trouble. I put one little girl on the stage (this is a gym auditorium sort of deal) and I left another little girl sitting in the center of the gym. The rest of the class begins a sort of mum-ball game that involves listening to drum patterns and responding accordingly (as dictated by pre-established game rules). I grant the little girl in the middle of the floor permission to join the circle, and I go up and sit next to the little girl on the stage, who has a lot of forehead, who still keeps yelling and calling out. I quietly and calmly tell her that I'm just waiting for her to stop so she can join her classmates. As I talk to her I notice that the reason her forehead appears so large is that her braids couldn't possibly start any further down. And for that matter, she couldn't really have many more of them, as hair doesn't seem to grow evenly all over her head. I wondered what sort of thing causes a little girl to go bald in patches. Does alopecia effect children? Stress?

When I asked her what the problem was, she responded: "This game is boring!"
To which I automatically responded: "Your face is boring." And then immediately retracted: "Your face is not boring, I was just kidding."

The game is boring? I mean, does she seriously expect me to believe that THAT is her reason? She couldn't calm down before the kids even knew what they were doing in music class.

I went back to monitoring the game, and I had gone up to double check the game rules on the plan sheets when I accidentally knocked my copy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on the floor. At least half of the class started to laugh, mock, and point, which seemed so cliche and ridiculous to me. "Grow up," I told them. No one is in the mood for any nonsense at this point of the year. I am no exception.

At some point the little girl on the stage relocates herself to the other side of the gym. Her moving reminds me that she is there and that I probably should let her join the game, as she has been quiet. I say some words to her but she doesn't respond, and I walk over to talk to her directly. She is crying, but the tears aren't really coming. It really seems more for show. When I ask her what's wrong, she tells me that she is crying because I said her face was boring and I told her to grow up.

Granted, I did say these things, but if they weren't worth crying about immediately, there is no sense decontextualizing them and crying about them later. At some point she ran out of the gym and my attempts at calling down to the office to let them know I had a runner were thwarted by the fact that neither of the two phones sitting on the stage were working.

When the teacher came to pick the class up, I explained about the missing student. Immediately several other students jumped up and started giving the missing girl's excuses for why she was upset.

"She was just mad because the substitute--"

The classroom teacher cut them off saying that it doesn't matter because I am the adult and she is the student.

I really appreciate when there is solidarity. For the longest time after she ran out of the gym, I kept picturing having a meeting with the school administration in which they reprimanded me for joking with a child. I should probably work on not responding to everything with "Your FACE is ______." or "YOU are ______." Just maybe.