Last Night I Dreamed of Algebra and the Taliban

The subconsciousness is a strange device. It’s our human CPU, running subroutines in the background. When we shut down for the night, it keeps running, energetically trying to solve all the world’s problems.  How the universe was formed. Whether there is life on other planets. What x equals. Why cruelty exists.

American Conservatory Theater production
From SF American Conservatory Theater production of Khalid Hosseini’s book, photo from Playbook.

A Thousand Suns… Some Not So Splendid

Last Thursday, I sat mesmerized during San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This play, based on the best-selling novel by Khalid Hosseini, is the story of women enduring the Afghanistan Civil Wars and the rise of the Taliban in the late 1990s. I choose the word enduring carefully because it is the core verb that women in the play use to express what must be done. Afghanistan under the severity of the Taliban interpretation of Sharia Law was as perilous a place for women as any; endure is what they must.

Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam….There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school . . . Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure . . . It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.
–Nana in A Thousand Splendid Suns

I don’t know if Hosseini read his Faulkner.

DILSEY.
They endured.
–Last line of The Sound and the Fury

Continue reading “Last Night I Dreamed of Algebra and the Taliban”

Basketball as Epic

Golden State Warriors artwork battling NBA
NBA Battle from 2018 exhibit Dubz Against the World, drawn by Pzhouart.

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
The Odyssey, opening, Fagles translation

The Trojan war lasted nine years, not counting pre-war skirmishes, trade negotiations at Grecian Menelaus’ palace, or the kidnap of Menelaus’ wife Helen by the Trojan prince Paris. The Trojans and the Greeks had a long history. Epic hero Odysseus wandered among the magic isles of the Mediterranean for ten years. Still older Sumerian tales of Gilgamesh spanned decades while the Indian classic epic Mahabharata lasted for generations. So it may seem impudent to talk of a four-year basketball rivalry in the same terms. Yet many parallels lie between sporting events today and the stories of old, and a contest that now covers an unprecedented four meetings could be described in the language of the epic. Continue reading “Basketball as Epic”

The Hypnotic, Horrific Jolliness of Mr. Trololo

The screen begins to undulate in a moire pattern of yellow, green, and orange. Purple drips start to appear, and just as your eyes start to scream No more!, jaunty waves of violins, punctuated with trumpets and cymbal crashes, chime in to assault your ears. Words appear. In Russian. The screen dissolves to a man wandering behind a curved iron gate in front of a honey-colored wall … crooning. What is he singing? Why is he so cheerful? Is that his real hair? And why is he singing like that?

20180110 trololo screen
YouTube Mr. Trololo, with English Subtitles

So many questions come to mind. You are transfixed with emotions you cannot name. Horror. Fascination. Amusement — no, Giddiness. Glee! Make it Stop! Never Stop! Continue reading “The Hypnotic, Horrific Jolliness of Mr. Trololo”

Yes, But is it ART…Art…art…or art?

Yeah man, Interpreting is Generative
–Forsaken Artform comic

20170830 Interpreting

Generative—gen·er·a·tive (adjective)
adjective: generative
relating to or capable of production or reproduction.  “the generative power of the life force”

On the drive back from Oregon last week, we spent quality time discussing a topic that could fill many a long and winding road:  What defines art?

Mind you, this is a topic with which I am greatly enamored. I could easily fill 10,000 words without blinking. My traveling companion and I debated for over an hour between Arbuckle and Benicia; even writing an outline for today’s entry took 800 words. So, I will try to focus mainly on one output of the discussion – a taxonomy of art.

It’s ART/Art/art whether You Like it or Not
Two ground rules are, however, necessary. First, let’s not confuse whether something is art (in a moment, I will redefine that term, but hold that thought) with what we like. Walt Disney is credited with saying, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.”  The converse is true. Whether you like it or not does not make it art. What defines art and its value to you or anyone else are two different things.

It’s valid to dislike things that are art, even when you are knowledgeable on why that thing is art. I like Jackson Pollock but dislike Mark Rothko, even though both were abstract expressionist painters with some of the same goals in mind. Leonard Bernstein once said there is good and bad Beethoven and good and bad Tina Turner. Some good Tina Turner can be better than bad Beethoven. Continue reading “Yes, But is it ART…Art…art…or art?”

What Fools these Midsummer Mortals Be

20170719 mids movie

Oberon, what visions I have seen! Methought I was enamoured of an ass!
— Titania, Act IV, Sc 1

In the dark of the wood, under moonlight, at midnight, anything can happen. That’s the premise of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and what makes it one of the greatest comedies ever written. Aside from making my case as to why this is so, let me also point out a few interesting facts about midsummer, good vs. disastrous Shakespeare, and how Midsummer has been interpreted.

Midsummer is long days and languid nights; fireflies or sparklers glowing while the sound of crickets or frogs echo above dark green trees, thick with foliage. Midsummer is a time for foolery, which is the perfect time to watch a play, especially outdoors. Shakespeare in the Park is popular worldwide in New York and Paris but also in small towns and local venues. Summer solstice-y traditions are also popular whether it’s official Scandinavian holidays like Sankthansaften in Denmark or Juhannus in Finland or even our backyard barbecues. There’s drinking and feasting, sometimes a naked sprint or some skinnydipping, and when the sun finally sets, there’s might be a giant community bonfire. In the dark of the night, in front of a fire, in shadows and in light, anything can happen.

Magic and the Just Desserts for the Snobbish
Lovers enter a dark forest, filled with mischief makers and aphrodisiacs. Local actors prepare a play and, like in Waiting for Guffman, simple actors act simply. A fairy queen and king are at odds, interesting shadows to the real queen and king, also at odds.  Why does A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s plot work so well? Three reasons: Continue reading “What Fools these Midsummer Mortals Be”