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March 30, 2000

Went to see a site-specific dance/theater performance, "subVersions", by the Collage Dance Theatre, an enjoyable several-scene work set in the old Los Angeles downtown Subway Terminal Building, which was the center of the old Hollywood Subway which operated from 1925-1955. The work ended with an eerie scene of a boat being carried into the blue depths of the abandoned subway tunnel. I wanted to find out how far that tunnel went, but it was impossible to see beyond the end of the light.

I thought the work was remarkably good, but it wasn't superfantastic. Susan thought and I agreed that they could have done more with audience participation and in general could have immersed the audience more fully into the experience of the piece, particularly given the rather intense setting.

Art Entertainment Network, an online exhibit of Internet art put on by the Walker Art Center. New York Times article (registration required) about the exhibit.

March 28, 2000

One other thought about amae (see yesterday's entry)... It is not only the expectation that one will be loved, but also a receptivity to love, an openness to being loved.

I remember feeling this so, so intensely from time to time when I was a child, lying in bed. I would be overcome with this feeling of incredible security, love, and nurturing which would center on my parents: a sense of gratitude and comfort, thinking of them sleeping in their bedroom, and I would simply let this sweet sensation wash over me. I felt as though there were literally a hidden field of energy or light that connected the me with them, lying there, in the house. It wasn't just a sense that they loved me or that I loved them, but that we were all together, dependent on each other in all directions (or without directionality), and it seemed so perfectly right.

I want to say one other thing as well. None of this implies that I didn't have disputes with my parents; in fact, I did. However, they seemed to always follow the Batesonian reciprocal pattern of interaction, rather than either a divergent or dominant pattern; we negotiated with each other, with neither my parents nor me dominating. The end result was always a sense that we would ultimately come to a group decision that was better than either side's initial position. My parents treated my opinions with respect, despite my dependent status, and that made me repect them the more. This didn't mean they were pushovers by any means; if they felt that my arguments or ideas were insufficiently convincing, they'd enforce their views with authority; but they'd give me a chance to convince them otherwise if I could. And I sometimes could.

March 27, 2000

I am visiting my California home again, interestingly just after visiting Vancouver, Paul's childhood home, which reminds me to pay more intense attention to the fact that this is indeed my childhood home, my parents' house in Gardena, California, the center of the largest Japanese-American community on the mainland. Every time I visit I feel very closely the possibility that my parents could be gone between now and the next time I visit. This place, my parents' house, truly is home to me in many ways, not the least of which because it is here for the most part that I grew up and developed the peculiarites of the nexus that I call my self: my partially Japanese, partially American consciousness, shaped by my parents and by the context in which I grew up.

I am further reminded of this because when I arrived, my mother handed me a book she is reading, Cherishment, the authors' attempt to create an English translation of the Japanese word amae, which means something like "the expectation to be loved." This concept is also discussed at length in another book my mother has been reading, The Anatomy of Dependence by Takeo Doi. The interesting thing about this is that it really doesn't have a clear translation in English. Although I hardly speak any Japanese, the meaning of this word, amae, is very clear to me; yet it is not a simple idea. It is an attitude as well as a cultural context; an implied environment of receptivity to love, an expectation without a demand: the simple fact that one simply expects love (or to put it more clearly, one is not afraid that love will not be provided). One is therefore also generous towards others, not out of a sense of altruism or moral obligation but straightforwardly and directly: one gives love as easily as one expects it. The sense or feeling of completeness and calm which comes with amae opens up enough space for the natural giving of love and appreciation as well. Appreciation of others flows naturally, not forced or pushed or demanded, not planned or contrived or negotiated.

I have to say that I feel very lucky to be able to receive a book recommendation from my mother, who is still alive and alert and aware. My parents are healthy today but who knows what might happen? Therefore each time I am here feels precious to me, even though these times are also completely ordinary and familiar. I owe much to my parents and the context they provided to me, not the least of which because they afforded me a natural and innate understanding of the meaning of the word amae.

This and many other things are parts of who I am, parts of a different context from the usual context of the dominant American culture in which I also live. Place also creates context (Gardena is a different context from Portland which is different from Vancouver, different from New York, different from Helsinki, different from Paris, different from Cameroon...) There are so many contexts, it is hard to feel which one is truly real. The fact is they are all dreams, but we cannot forget any of them, lest we forget that we can always awaken to another dream. And if we forget that, we become prisoners of our own making.

March 26, 2000

On our way back from visiting Paul Perry in Vancouver, Sue and I stopped in Seattle and had dinner with some newly married friends, Ken and Heather. They currently live near Redmond (though not for much longer); it is a surprisingly dead town despite its status as the capital of the Microsoft empire. It seems that few people at Microsoft bother to leave the campus to eat or shop; Redmond sports a rather sad, cookie-cutter shopping mall and comes off as a depressed-looking, run-down backwater.

One of the things we talked about over Thai food in the mall was the world of weblogs; I enthused about the rather interesting people I have met and corresponded with since I first came across this phenomenon last year, and the remarkably high level of discourse and personal expression I've observed in many places. Although I have participated in online "communities" since the late 80's, I never found the conversations there all that interesting because they would usually get derailed by people who had little interest in the subject being discussed yet still felt it necessary to inject insults or ill-informed, random commentary. As a result, it was usually either difficult or impossible to get beyond conventional wisdom or mainstream culture or ideas.

The weblog format, on the other hand, seems to both encourage conversation (sites referring and responding and linking to each other), and preserve diversity. What particularly impresses me is that people are willing to talk about almost any subject that comes to mind, whether mainstream or not, without obsessing about dumbing it down. Sure, angry emails may arrive, but they don't interrupt the flow. If people want to reply in public, they can: on their own sites. There is interchange without disruption. This is unheard-of in the old USENET world, or the world of bulletin boards and conferencing systems.

Furthermore, webloggers have a natural economy of mutuality: we link to each other. This encourages us to want to get to know each other and correspond and, well, like each other. In the diary world, rampant jealousy has fueled wildfires, but over here in the weblog universe, feuds tend to be short-lived and relatively rare. A popular site can be an unknown site's best friend; they aren't stealing readers, they may potentially send readers to you.

Of course, diaries and weblogs share the basic quality of being sites of personal expression. I suggested to my friends they start writing, themselves. Which reminds me of Jouke's 25-26 March entry yesterday in which he asks us to take our friends on information tours, and get them to contribute as well. So, friends: please do!

On a somewhat related note: write to me if you like. I always love hearing from those of you reading this.

March 25, 2000

Susan and I had a wonderful dinner with Paul Perry (Alamut), who is visiting his original home town of Vancouver, BC. We spoke about weblogs (of course), Buddhism, Portland and Vancouver, urban environments and livability, Paul's latest art commission, Susan's advice column, the gigantic interactive fiction project that Sue and I worked on a while ago, art and engineering, working on Miranda's tour, Holland, relative time, personal time, nonlinear time, and hyperlinked time, resolving tensions between opposing forces in a way which optimizes for both, being and experiencing versus describing and depicting, Alzheimer's disease and people who live in the eternal present (those who have lost their short-term memories), and the intersubjective hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Vancouver really is a beautiful, wonderful city. I have visited twice before but never really got a good sense of it. This time I could begin to see why people really like this city. The surrounding mountains are impressive, the city is filled with interesting neighborhoods, and the food is quite good as well. We plan to go walking around in parks tomorrow before heading back.

I don't know if, as I suggested the other day, people actually wrote to Heather Anne or not. However, I am happy to say that she tells me she finally feels like writing again, and has graced us again with her words.

March 20, 2000

Judith over at calamondin talks about Lane Becker's discussion on Monstro on fast and slow:

See, as far as I can tell, most people spin through life doing what they're told and what seems right and what seems possible in that moment, every moment, moment to moment, day to day, hour to hour to hour. And since things seem to be speeding up, right about now, there's even less time within those moments. Reflection -- which, yeah, makes us better people, makes our decisions more honest, and our mistakes, too -- well, fuggedaboutit. Always the first thing to go. Spinning.
I really like this comment. This is part of what I was talking about the other day, on the subject of difficulty and ease. Sometimes we just need to stop and stare into space (not blankly, but to open up room). Not necessarily always just rushing around trying to accomplish something all the time.

Over on the Monk site (a great place to find wonderful writing on places to go, written by two guys in a motor home travelling around the country) I found a related comment in an interview with Anne Hughes. When they began to talk about why Portland managed to grow so gracefully into such a vibrant and livable place, they had this exchange:

Monk: So it's just the luck of having great people or is there something about the Portland character?

AH: I think a lot of it's luck but we're also such a plain little town. My Philadelphia brother calls Portland a hotbed of social rest. There's nothing pretentious and glamorous like there is in San Francisco or Seattle. Seattle wanted to become a northern L.A. and it feels like L.A. Portland is kind of slow and you've got time to mull things over. When you're not stimulated all the time you can think. And Portland didn't really have anything to attract people to it except that it's a nice place. So people here have a lot of time to think and to look at stuff. And it's smaller scale so if you want to get something done you definitely can. Gertrude Stein had a saying about France. "It's not what France gave to us. It's what it didn't take away." And I think with Portland it's not what it gives you, it's just that it doesn't take a lot away from you.

I've been thinking a lot about the way the Internet industry has been going, particularly in places like the Bay Area, where there are people with $50,000 annual incomes who are homeless (I kid you not), people don't have time to have children or even date, few people who go out at night or on the weekends because everyone works all the time, and everything is running fast, fast, fast, on Internet time. I feel like just saying STOP! Let's just step back and take a breather here. There may be something we're missing in all the frenzied activity. An insight lost, a moment to develop life and art and humanity. There was a time when I felt a little out of the mainstream in Portland, a new media person working way up here, but now I'm kind of glad I live here much of the year and not there (where many of my friends live and work). There is a bit more space here, more time.

March 18, 2000

Obligatory SXSW reference: I didn't go to SXSW. I thought about going but decided I had already had enough travel recently, though it really seemed enticing. Next year I almost certainly will go, particularly as I happen to love Austin. It is very close to Portland at the top of my short list of favorite cities.

Just got back from salsa dancing. Some pretty interesting things went down which I can't talk about.

I had a very interesting conversation earlier today with a friend about Aikido and Americans practicing Japanese arts and traditions and pre-modern and postmodern philosophy in the East and the West and creativity and the culture of the new and copying traditions versus investigating things for yourself and how Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, would always chastise his students not to blindly copy him, and how this all relates to learning patterns versus copying answers, but I am too tired to write it all down now. Maybe tomorrow.

March 16, 2000

I stumbled upon Texting (aka Vortext) while playing with linkwatcher's blogsearch function (looking for what else, links to myself). In her left column: "satisfied customers say: 'I feel pretty good about my life after reading this,' 'More tortured neurotic bathos, please!,' and 'Where's the links?'..." About me, she has this to say: "Between Geegaw and Synthetic Zero, I'd say the need for my lifeform on the planet is demonstrably nil." It seems to be a compliment, although I'm not sure it makes me feel good; but, I'm glad for the link and to have found her site.

One of several finds via Texting: arch>inter.LOG, filled with many interesting links, thoughts on art in the hypermediated age, and references to works like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius... which reminds me, Miranda and Sue and I were at a reading of the author, Dave Eggers (also the editor of the Internet and paper quarterly literary journal, McSweeney's), the other day at the great giant largest-bookstore-in-the-country Powell's. Among other things, he got an exercise instructor out of the audience to give us all a brief workout, then got an improv actor to volunteer to read a passage of dialogue from his book with him. And to top it off, he brought a clown to entertain us during the book signing part. Interactive audience participation book reading.

I am going to make a point of mining my referrer logs more.

Been having conversations about the difference between getting advice and learning patterns. That is to say, it is one thing to go to someone you admire and ask them for advice (what should I do? what choice should I make?) with the foreknowledge that this person may well give you better counsel than you might produce on your own... but it is another thing to try to learn how they might have been capable of that insight or observation or feat of expression or work of art. Instead of just copying an answer, one can apply a pattern, explicit or implicit, for yourself in your own context (making it your own). The former way of learning from others is dead: it can only be applied once; the latter is alive, you can keep generating new solutions endlessly. Of course, learning in the latter way requires a great deal of imagination: one has to place oneself in the other person's shoes. And it requires a certain audacity: I, too, could be a genius, just like my friend/associate/idol/teacher/etc. And humility, as well: I need to learn.

March 14, 2000

Miranda July is doing the final performances of her acclaimed piece Love Diamond at The Kitchen this Wednesday through Saturday (scroll down). If you're anywhere near New York you ought to check it out. I've seen it and it is amazing. She's also appearing at colleges and elsewhere in New York, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, among other places. The Corcoran is sponsoring one of these appearances. Finally, I wanted to mention that one of her short films, The Amateurist, is being shown by The Whitney as a part of the film series attached to their American Century exhibit (the schedule of films on their site only includes the first half of the program; they haven't posted the second half schedule yet).

Speaking of Miranda July, I've been suffering from sympathetic jet lag (something like sympathetic pregnancy?) as I have been helping her on her trip back East (I wrote some video software that she's using to perform a "sneak preview" of her next performance piece, The Swan Tool, and I've also been doing some behind-the-scenes scheduling for her and stuff). As a result after she first got there she ended up calling me or I ended up calling her quite a bit at the crack of dawn (which for me is much worse because I like to sleep in typically). So I've been waking up at 6am PST, etc. It's been fun, however, despite that.

I have been having Lemonyellow withdrawal recently. If you like her site, please email her and harrass her about how she hasn't been updating it. (I mean encourage her to write, please don't really harrass her.) If more people who liked her work wrote to her, maybe she'd be able to find the time to share her thoughts with us.

Of course, I haven't been updating this site enough recently, either, but I blame my sympathetic jet lag for that. At least I have an excuse. Well, I'm sure Heather Anne has an even better excuse for her silence, but anyway.

March 6, 2000

David sent me a reference to this article (requires registration --- click on the article link after registering) from CogNet on the evolutionary relationship between music and our emotional centers in the paleoencephalon (the so-called "old brain"). (David found CogNet via Peterme; it includes full-text access to MIT Press' cognitive science books.) From the article:

In 1917, the great Austrian mathematician J. Radon proved that any two-or-three-dimensional object can be uniquely reconstructed from the infinite set of all of its projections into the next lower dimension (i.e., a two-dimensional object mapped into lines, a three-dimensional object represented in planar views, four dimensions projected into three, and so on). Indeed, this theory forms the basis for all modern medical non-invasive imaging modalities (such as CT scanning, MRI, and Clinical Ultrasound). Radon's work introduced the fundamental concept that to define uniquely all of the features of any multi-dimensional object requires that we view it from all possible directions -- a concept that is even more general than Radon, himself, might have realized at the time. That is to say, if we logically extrapolate his observations to the whole of the human experience, it follows that if we are to glean a comprehensive understanding of such experience -- i.e., to derive a self-consistent theory that defines all forms of human behavior relative to the "four-dimensional" space-time domain within which it is contained -- we must approach, observe, study, and analyze it from all conceivable points of view, i.e., all "projections" that reflect every form of human endeavor. The role that the arts, in general, and music, in particular, play in the human experience is one "projection" that has hitherto been largely neglected ... thanks, in part, to the nearly-360-year-old "Cartesianism" philosophy of the French mathematician, Rene Descartes.
On another subject, I've been thinking about the following quote from the Tao Teh Ching:
...he who is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult. Therefore the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so never has any difficulties...

-from Chapter 63 of the Tao Teh Ching
When I first read this many years ago I didn't think much about it, but recently I've been mulling over how subtle a statement this really is. What Lao Tzu is saying here is not simply that life is difficult, but that if you think of things as difficult, they will in fact be easy.

This is not just a psychological trick. I believe it has practical ramifications. We often come across a problematic situation and then dive in with some half-assed idea based on a preconception or prejudice, and we either run into a brick wall or cause ourselves and others a lot of additional problems and suffering. We tend to settle too easily for a shallow approach. Ironically, this comes from thinking that things should be easy --- we don't give our life the respect it deserves.

Alternatively, we assume things should be easy and the moment we run into difficulty, we give up, losing potentially vast opportunities.

I remember when I was in college doing my physics problem sets. I would sometimes just rush forward with some approach when I didn't really have a clear idea what was going on with a particular problem, just hoping that fiddling around would work --- I could go for hours without success. However, if I forced myself to just sit there and stare into space for a while, within a half hour or so it would usually hit me---AHA, it's soooo simple!

When I took the shallow, immediately obvious approach, the problem was difficult or insoluble, but when I paused for a while to give the problem the respect it deserved --- assuming it could well require some deeper insight --- it could become easy. I neither gave up nor blundered forward, but rather I softly eased ahead, persistent yet respectful.