Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Nostalgia nostalgia

This week’s theme is nostalgia. Not specific things we are nostalgic for, but the culture of nostalgia in general, and how nostalgia begets nostalgia in exponential time, always waiting for something to fall out of fashion so it can be recycled into popular consciousness as chic and retro and part of the good old 27 minutes ago.

Ours is an interesting generation-

Pause. Let me say, perhaps at the anger of my fellow churnmonkey, that Churn really is a generational magazine, in all the delightful ways that phrase can be spun. Literally generational; both in the sense that the title and background of this page inspire, and in the sense of a specific generation of people. Ours. Ours, who sat in the shadow of the gen-Xers. We had them as the cool older kids to aspire to, perhaps in the same way the flower children of the 60’s had the Easy Rider’s of the 50’s to look up to. Both the 50’s and the 90’s were times of glorious prosperity, and the cool kids of both generations were too cool to care. In the 50’s they were rebels; in the 90’s, they were slackers. We, above all, looked up to cool, apathetic slackers. We responded to their sardonic cynicism with absurdist existential affirmation. We are the generation that realized shows like Adult Swim and the Daily Show*. We are Conan’s target demographic.

But I dwell in the present. Let me return to the past.

Ours is an interesting generation, because we have swallowed the idea of nostalgia as a legitimate indulgence. We have let our past be sold to us over and over again, in slightly redesigned packaging. We saw this happening, and were helpless to stop it. When I Love The 90’s played on VH1 over the summer it felt wrong and too soon and yet oddly, embarrassingly compelling, like sleeping with the girl you just broke up with or going to your 5 year high school reunion.

Transitioning smoothly yet self-consciously between low and high brow, post-modernism was to some extent an attempt to come to terms with the finite nature of art and the near impossible task of creativity. It was art becoming aware and embracing its own death, indulgent yet cathartically reveling in its limitations and swallowing the impossibility of its failed goal of perfect expression. Like being hit in the stomach, art doubled in on itself, and began rehashing its past, reorganizing its own history in an attempt to re-expose us to its previous triumphs.

And the past, it turns out, is an infinite resource for ideas; and as the rest of culture caught on to the lessons of post-modernism, it became obvious that we can in fact market the past to the present. This had been done before- oldies stations have been on the radio since they were newies- but never with the sheer bald-faced determination we see today. And now we are not only nostalgic for our own pasts; we are nostalgic for the pasts we could have had if we had only been born a decade before or a decade later.

And with the access to this information that technology gives us, we can rehash and repackage it in any way we choose for whatever purposes suit the current memory trend. That VH1 has turned into a pop media archive seems both redundant and comforting. Part of the allure of the past is that it is so damn familiar. I don’t need to keep up with what the kids are doing today, I can see my own youth spruced up with fancy graphics and voice overs by Ron Howard. This doubling over, however, could affect the future generations in strange ways. One is that they have no identity of their own; like the children of the 70’s, they could only feed off the dying creative flame of the 60’s. Or just maybe, the next generation will act as if the past is and has always been immediately available, since for their entire life it has been consistently exposed to them as a blurry, unindividuated past that saturates the current culture; and perhaps they will transcend the nostalgia (since they can only be nostalgic for nostalgia itself) and create anew.

* I must say a bit more on this. I find it absolutely wonderful that it is Jon Stewart, who in some sense directly embodies the spirit of generation-X, is now responsible for giving our generation the news. It just feels right, and because we were raised looking up to him and his ilk, we feel so comfortable listening to his words, and so familiar with his humor. And he seems to enjoy taking up the role of teacher, with guiding our political future beyond the apathy of his directionless generation. He is different than, for instance, a Gerofalo, because I don’t think she ever quite left the 90’s; but Stewart seems intent on relating to us, and helping us. He does not retreat to nostalgia.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Importance of Being Thankful

I suppose when one considers being thankful one might have to confront the problem of not being able to control things. For some this is resolved by a faith in something greater than yourself, a benevolent deity or some kind of transcendent belief that all is as it should be. Still for those more spiritually ambivalent or downright apathetic individuals the act of being thankful seems like a plea into the ether for the random fortune of those events that haven’t as of yet resulted in demise. I wonder why one would be thankful? What it does for us aside from allowing us to stop breath and take a moment to relish the occasionally stable elements that make up our inevitably tumultuous existence. To me being thankful is like a rebooting of our perception.
Should I be thankful for a full belly, A bed, and shelter? Yes. Should I be indignant that I can’t see without glasses? No.

Now the question is one of accountability and personal responsibility. I should be thankful for that which has inexplicably become part of my life and contributes to it in a good way. To say that I create my own good fortune is to disregard the meaning of the word. I can get glasses or hack off part of my cornea with a laser if I want to see better. But I cannot choose my parents and I cannot make someone love me.

Problems have solutions and to find those solutions and to solve those problems seems to be the primary way of passing time in this life. Complaint about that which we cannot control, as temporarily therapeutic as it may be, is pointless since it cannot be controlled. This truth of victimization by fate can be quite depressing if one does not also realize that as fate might "screw you" it also favors you. So though we might take a moment to curse our existence we should also take a moment, or two, to appreciate our existence.

In this way being thankful serves a psychological need and prevents us from becoming so intertwined by the negative that we lose our damn mind. It keeps us sane to stop and be happy about the good things; be it thanking a God or just recognizing whatever volume of fluid is currently in the glass. Then we can go about our day searching for solutions to that dimension of our existence that we have some influence over.

Thankfully: Churn Grand Opening

Churn was slated to go on Thanksgiving Day. Actually, it was previously slated to go on the 13th of November, but it is finally going up today, Black Friday, which is perhaps more fitting. One of the reasons it was delayed was both churnmonkeys were busy with family and guests on Thanksgiving, and it is hard to be creative on a belly full of tryptophan and pie.

Yesterday a houseful of rowdy Brazilians celebrated Thanksgiving in my living room. It was quaint, in a way- their sense of this thoroughly American holiday was slightly off, so we had a big turkey crammed with rice and a bean-custard type dish, and some flan afterwards. I provided the pumpkin pie, and though there was no cranberry sauce or proper stuffing, the food was good and made with love and I feasted as was appropriate. The pie went over as well as pie usually goes over, which I took pride in as this was my first foray into the wide world of gourd-based desserts.

Afterwards, as Brazilians are want to do, they hit the sauce, and hard; and eventually there was a truth-or-dare type game that involved a spinning bottle and a lot of singing and banging on our hard wood floors, which woke me up from my turkey-induced nap. When I stepped out dowsily for a glass of water I noticed that in fact only the men were left, except my female roommate, who seemed to take some delight in seeing a gang of drunken men make fools of themselves in front of her. I quickly hid back in my room, and tried to think of things I was thankful for.

Not much was coming. Not that I wasn’t terribly grateful for all the things I have, but it was the typical struggle between overarching general themes and particular instances that express those themes. I wasn’t lacking in particulars, however, and had two specific instances of gratefulness that I felt needed sharing: gratefulness to Bruce and to Duane.

Bruce is an older ‘student’ in my department, who has been abd for the better part of my conscious life, and makes his living as an editor for the UI Press. He is amazingly smart and I have nothing but respect for him- but he is also usually well equipped with drugs of various stripes and flavors. I am usually quite shy around him, as he is far more worldly and interesting than me and I find I have very little to say around him; and though I accept the drugs when he offers, I never thought of exploiting him as a connection. At least until this week, when all my other chances had dried up and I had no one else to turn to, and I felt the need creep up my spine and scream loudly at my brain. I made some comment to him during our last Happy Hour, and he said to call him on Monday. “I get off of work at 5.” At exactly 6:30pm on Monday (taking into consideration a proper amount of after-work ‘relaxing’) I run into his answering machine, which was a recording of a soft-spoken Frenchman saying something soft and French. I proceed to call back a good dozen times, listening again and again to see if in fact that was Bruce, and finally breaking down and asking my roommate for her opinion on the mysterious answering machine message. Finally deciding to leave a message no matter who’s machine it was, I get a call back later in the evening complaining about all the messages and saying that in fact, his ‘friend’ couldn’t come through for him on such short notice, but might be able to after the vacation.

Of course this defeats the whole point of the vacation, so I say ‘nevermind’ and dejectedly contemplate a sober Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, however, as we all meet for some karaoke, I hear a voice behind me: “Put out your hand”. It is Bruce, and he is holding an envelope, and he says “its not much, but its something.” I try to hold back the tears- pure tears of shameless thankfulness.

Duane is the other person I am thankful for, but perhaps on the full opposite side of the thankfulness spectrum (continuum?). On Wednesday evening the doorbell rangs and a guy with a shovel asked if I wanted the drive shoveled. I say I can’t give more than 5 bucks, and he hops to right away, shoveling like he is laying down train tracks with large rhythmic sweeps of his big red shovel. It was pointless, I knew: thanksgiving snow never lasts the weekend. But I gave him the money, and told him to keep warm; and I felt generous myself for participating in this strange exchange. We both knew his work was pointless, and that he was essentially just begging for money, but we both felt that it was somehow right that he had to at least show he is putting in some effort, that he has in fact earned the money I gave him. And of course he did, but the pomp and circumstance of the whole affair was strange. Not wrong, but somehow exactly right in line with the spirit of this holiday, where we feel obligated to make our thanks explicit.

These two points of thankfulness didn’t seem to share a coherent theme, however, and I didn’t quite know how to tie them together. I stepped back out of my room, looking for the remainder of my pie, and snaked around the remnants of whatever game they were playing on the floor on my way to the kitchen. There is ½ a pie left, cut down the middle. I got out my knife to make the four proper slices, to take one back to my room, and suddenly realize that this was MY pie, and no one else was going to eat it (as most everyone else had either left or was too drunk to feed themselves), and you know what? Fuck slices. So I took the whole pie tin into my room, along with a freshly open tub of cool whip, and went to town on the pie.

And it was good. Thankfully.