Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reflections on Politics on a Crisp Winter Day

It's been the first real chilly winter day we've had in Minnesota. I think it was around 15 F (-7C). It was sunny though and amazingly I didn't mind. So far I don't mind winter at all. So strange. I used to hate it.

I walked to my studio in this crisp air with a blazing blue sky above and sun. I got there and worked as usual.

There's been one odd side effect of working a lot. As I've mentioned previously I listen to NPR radio while I work. I hear so many news stories - Bush, Iraq, neoconservatives, the collapsing housing market, the poisoned Russian spy, Chinese pollution, trans-fats, Darfur, global warming, education for the deaf, Katrina rebuilding, Japanese pop culture.....

The list goes on and on.

I like to say that I've sworn off politics. But as I sit there working with my hands on my glass projects, I hear these stories and in-depth interviews and my mind starts to form arguments and opinions. I have always found myself naturally compelled to questions of society and politics and above all I've got a raging inclination to debate, to thoroughly chew up ideas and break them apart and examine them. I guess this is why I got a university degree in International Relations (lots of politics & economics) and nearly got a degree in anthropology (3 credits short).

But despite this inclination, a few years ago I decided to abandon politics, philosophy and such. I did this for a variety of reasons, all too complex to delve into here.

So this radio is troublesome. I enjoy hearing about the world and it is interesting. But it also tugs me back into a state of mind hot for debate and for inquiry. It re-engages me in questions I want to ignore. It pulls me back into a realm of thought and philosophy that I want nothing to do with.

But it's SO seductive. So engaging.

One big reason I don't want to think about these things is that I've come to realize that my ideas have become different from the ideas of the people that I know here, that I've grown up with. My family and friends are strongly liberal and quite ideological. Part of me is still that too. But I think if they knew some of the things I believe in now they get irritated, maybe even emotional, and think I've betrayed them. I swear I have done no such thing. I love them all dearly and I don't want to contradict them.

But I can't pretend to believe in the same things I believed in ten years ago either, when we used to share the same views. In my travels and my studies I've seen things and learned things that drastically changed my understanding of this complex world we live in. I would love to tell them about these things. To explain the effects these experiences had on my opinions. But that takes so long to explain, longer than most people have patience for. The only solution I see for now is to bottle it up, don't think about it, don't talk about it, leave it behind.

Some people will probably say this is typical of cultural re-integration. Everyone knows there's culture shock when a person goes abroad, but sometimes people don't realize there's also culture shock when a person returns home. When a person lives away from own culture for a long time, as I have done, their views often change dramatically. When they return home they discover there is now a gap between their beliefs and those of their friends and family. This can be terribly frustrating. They want to "enlighten" the people back home with the great new ways of seeing things that they have discovered. But that rarely works. They often may judge the views of the people who stayed behind as simple or naive. This isn't true either and only makes people angry.

The solution is not obvious and takes a long time to figure out. This seems to be where I'm at.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blissful vacation

This morning was the delivery. I brought all my glass stuff to the Gallery. Five weeks of work. And so for one blissful afternoon I didn't do NOTHIN! I napped in the sun and ate lunch with Marco at Bon Vie, a tasty eatery up the street. I have worked every day for the last two weeks except Thanksgiving day, even weekends. Maybe even the last three weeks. I've lost count. Despite the quantity of work, the quality has been good - I mean that I have enjoyed it. When you work for yourself and can do what you want life is pretty good. Now all I have to do is make money and I'm set.

I like physical work because you actually feel yourself get stronger when you work a lot. I haul stuff, I'm on my feet all day, the work is detailed and exacting. My arms, defintely my back, my legs all feel vigorous and healthy. A big difference from working on a computer where lots of work makes you feel soft and ill. But in my work at least I also keep my brain busy too. Between design (to make things beautiful) and engineering (to make things that hold together) there has been a LOT to do. I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if a sheet of tin can be soldered to a piece of copper-wrapped glass, and if so, would it look good?

But enough about work. Who wants to hear about that? The other thing I did this evening was to go buy something to wear for the gallery opening saturday night. My clothes are in a ragged state because I've been putting all available money into the studio, meaning no new clothes for the last 6 months, and I've been wearing the ones I own HARD. All my pants have rips and tears in them. Everything's kinda surly looking. Some people probably think I'm trying to be cool but I've truly worn them through. So I got a nice blue dress this evening at H&M. It's pretty. There was TERRIBLE Christmas music on in the store. Ohh that's so obnoxious. Pity the employees.

Tomorrow, back to work. Merry, the gallery owner (yes, that's her real name) wants 2 more mirrors, 6 more nightlights and as many tealight candle holders as I can make before saturday. She thinks the stuff is going to sell.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ooh that 007

For some reason I've always been a fan of the James Bond movies. Like with Indiana Jones I love the excitement and charisma and the larger-than-life persona. Like with Batman I love to see the new bad guys and the new audaciously-dressed Bond girls. The only problem - the last several Bond movies were SO pathetic. Oh they were awful! Pierce Brosnan was about as charismatic as a toenail clipping. The movies deteriorated into bad action film sludge.

But oooohhhh now comes Casino Royale. This is the most satisfying movie I've seen in ages. Marco and I saw it on opening night (didn't really mean to but it happened that way) and it was everything going to the cinema was supposed to be. We went to the small local old charming movie theater on Grand Avenue that only has 2 screens and creaky velvet chairs and all. The room was packed and there was that great buzz when people are excited for a movie (and in this case a classic series that everyone young and old knows all the cues to: the gadget car, M, the martini shaken etc.) It was the type of excitement where the crowd all cheers or laughs or ohhhs all in unison and it is accompanied by a ripple of thrill of being in that shared cinematic moment. That worked well in this movie because there actually ARE some dynamite lines and sizzling exchanges and great visual surprises, such as the very last shot of the movie. It's so satisfying.

And how's the new Bond? I had been rooting for dark and swarthy Clive Owen as James Bond (he swears with such elegent violence it's almost an art.) I thought he had IT to be 007. But now I'm convinced that this odd unlikely actor, Daniel Craig, is probably the next man to become a legend in the role.


Since we're on the topic of movies here are some of the other movies I have enjoyed so far this year:

A Mighty Wind (a spoof documentary about folk musicians of the 1970s - very funny!)

Swimming Pool (strange French movie with more than a spark of eroticism - ooh that twisted french mind)

Brokeback Mountain (yeah I did actually like this movie)

The Agatha Christie PBS series of Inspector Poirot and Miss Marple (if you're wondering where on earth did this come from we recently discovered that the whole series are available at the local library for free so we've been watching them all, and with quite a bit of pleasure. Inspector Poirot because is such a suave and goofy man!)

The Prarie Home Companion Movie (well maybe you have to be Minnesotan to really enjoy this one)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Joke of the Day - A Koala Walks Into a Bar....

Hee hee....

A koala walks into a bar one night, slams his paw down on the table, and orders a drink. When he's done, slam goes his paw again for more. This goes on for about half an hour, and just when he was going to do it again, the barkeep told him if he was looking for a good time, there was some one in the back room who could help him, the koala decides why not and goes into the back room. There he meets a prostitute who is waiting for him. That night he has the best sex he has ever had. After the prostitute turns to the koala and says, "How about my money," the koala looked confused and the prostitute brought out a dictionary and it said...PROSTITUTE: Has sex for money.

So in response the koala turn to the definition for the koala and it says. KOALA: Eats bush and leaves.


These are busy days my friend....

I'm getting up every morning and hauling myself over to the studio and building, building, building. I feel busy like the squirrels I see around town these days who are in a frenzy of nut-related activity. Every time you see a squirrel they are a creature with an agenda - digging, hiding, burying, un-burying, eating. They are plump and furry and look all ready for winter.

But enough about squirrels (alas, is there really ever enough?). I'm not tucking acorns into the corners of my studio but I do have an agenda of soldering, grinding and cutting. I have about a week to finish 3 mirrors, 20 christmas ornaments, 8 nightlights, 10 tealight candle holders. Yikes, it scares me just to write that down. I don't know if I'll get everything done before the gallery opening. I thought everything would go faster but since everything I'm trying to do is so experimental it is going much slower than anticipated. Lots of trial and error.

I also realized that I have a lot of time to listen to stuff while I cut glass and solder so I'm starting to try out some language-learning cassettes. The question is what language should I learn? I saw a book to learn Catalan in the library but no cassettes. damn. that could be fun. I already breezed through the one set of Indonesian cassettes that they had. Heard it at least 10 times. This opens a dangerous existential question for me because if I start thinking about learning a language again it makes me want to move somewhere new and exotic and I can't start thinking like that for now. Countries for me are like cheap women for a hungry man. I am too easily tempted. I've spent WAY too many hours dreaming about returning to Asia or trying a place like Zanzibar for a whim. I try to keep my mind free of these things.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ooooh election night!

Well I claim that I'm not into politics yet I'm sitting here at 8pm impatiently browsing news websites for election news. Ooooooh who will controll congress??

I voted this warm and misty November morning and got my classic red "I voted" sticker to wear around on my jacket. I did my part. It's the first time in ages that I actually went to the polling station instead of voting by absentee ballot. The last elections in 2004 I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning in a Paris Bar drinking free champagne and waiting for election results with my half-American friend Sebastian.

That reminds me. Here's something really funny! Watch this video. It's from the 2004 elections but it's short and it's hilarious. It's titled "Voting Machine". (please copy and paste - anyone that reads my blog knows that for some reason my links never work. the bastards!) Hee hee!

Tonight Marco's cooking a yummy dish with cauliflower and eggs accompanied by some grilled Italian sausages. Then we're going to watch the movie "Thank You for Smoking". I love being able to kick back and relax these days because I'm working like a maniac in the studio. I have a zillion mirrors, tealight candle holders, Christmas ornaments, Christmas tree-top stars to build in the next 2 1/2 weeks for the debut of my Chrsitmas show at Gallery 360. And I've got my first commissioned window to design for some clients.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Joke of the Day - Canadians Contribute to Iraq War

My last entry was all about politics. Too much politics if you ask me.

Here's a joke to make up for it:


Prime Minister of Canada to Visit Washington

Statement by the Press Secretary

President Bush and Prime Minister John Chretien of Canada met on Sept. 24th with the Canadian Leader strongly supporting the war on terrorism. Prime Minister Chretien issued the following statement:




About Minnesota Politics

Midterm elections are in two days. I have a sort of paradoxical view on politics. On one hand I actually have a university degree in international relations, for which about 50% of my courses were in political studies and the rest - economics, development, sociology - were pretty close. On the other hand that university degree taught me that I want absolutely NOTHING to do with politics, and largely made me disbelieve in most modern political institutions.

This brings me to my daily life these days, working on glass in my studio. Glass, unlike politics, is simple and uncomplicated. Nobody argues about it and nobody lives and dies by the decisions I make. That is perfectly fine for me.

BUT it is quiet in my studio so I keep the radio on in the background. The station is usually on National Public Radio / Minnesota Public Radio and as such I hear ALL the political news. I hear hours and hours of political analysis and debate. I have heard every major and minor politician in Minnesota thoroughly express their policies and beliefs.

As a result, for someone who doesn't really care anymore about politics I have a thorough knowledge the 2006 elections in MN and nationwide. I know all the polls, all the scandals, all the debates, all the issues.

So here are the things I find interesting:

I like being in Minnesota for politics. We are such an oddball state. We always produce surprises. Lots of coastal people, and also non-Americans (as I observed during the 2004 elections when I was in France), assume that Minnesota is a right-wing red state since it is located in the geographic middle of the country. But we are far from it. We have been a blue state for generations, since the beginning of our existence, and have produced some of the most liberal politicians in US history such as Paul Wellstone and Hubert Humphrey. We have also produced some memorable independent characters, the most famous being Jesse Ventura our ex-pro-wrestler governor. In this tradition Minnesota is producing some interesting 2006 candidates.

Even though we are largely a bunch of whiteys of nordic descent, we are likely to elect America's first Muslim, who is also black, to the US House of Representatives. His name is Keith Ellison. Most Americans would probably expect this significant and controversial moment in US politics to come from a more diverse and flamboyant place like California or New York. But no it's quiet and unassuming little Minnesota. To me this exemplifies a very Minnesotan ability to both enjoy iconoclastic people and accept personal and cultural differences. This pleases me.

At the same time we are also producing one of the nation's most conservative candidates. Her name is Michelle Bachman. I'm not much of a fan of her because she says openly that God has told her to be in politics and I think that is pretty insane. I'm NOT against religion but I don't want religion in politics, especially when religion borders on delusion. Even worse, in my opinion, is that she wants to build highways and shopping malls all over the scenic and historic St. Croix River Valley where I grew up and there is nothing that pisses me off more than that. She thinks God = economic development. What makes her interesting though in a freak-show sort of way is that while the rest of the country is toning down their religious rhetoric for this election (it's gone out of fashion you could say), she steams ahead unabated. It's this zealotry that at least adds some spice to the election. Even more odd is that one of her opponents, John Binkowski of the Independence Party, is a 27-year-old guy who used to ride the schoolbus with me when we were kids. I didn't have high expectations but it turns out he's a clever and humorous debater and he has really given his opponents a worthy verbal combat. Her third opponent, Patty Wetterling from the democratic party, is a woman who's son was very famously abducted and murdered 15 years ago and as a result she went into politics to improve society. In two days we will choose one of these three people to represent us in the US Congress. So if nothing else it's an interesting set of choices.