synthetic zero


October 30, 2003

Caroline is visiting. On Tuesday night Caroline, Susan, Susan from across the hall, Amy, and I went to see a poetry reading that Chris had recommended to us, put on by the Bronx Writer's Center. Three different poets, all impressive and moving, raw and direct and some of them sometimes a bit intentionally unpolished, yet still beautiful. Afterwards many people stood up to announce their various events --- loft parties, shows, readings, openings, experimental film/dance/music events, etc. One person joked that the whole neighborhood is being called by various new nicknames --- SoBro, MoHa (Mott Haven), "Downtown Bronx", and... The Ramps.

Couchers et levers de soleil (from Caroline).

October 28, 2003

Ricardo of banubula stopped by the loft and we had lunch. We discussed many things but near the end of our conversation the topic turned to the Game Neverending... he had a ton of interesting stories to tell about it. We discussed the fact that Ms. Secret Identity (her secret is safe with me) has been a huge devotee of the site since the beginning. In particular I found his description of the virtual art installations quite interesting. Alas, right now GNE is in between versions --- they just have some chat rooms up at the moment.

In the past I've had rather mediocre experiences with these sorts of worlds --- I've had far better experiences in the weblog world. Probably what was different with GNE is that the initial users were all friends of Stewart and Caterina --- thus, the weblog world seeding a multiplayer world. It was a temporary period, however --- the world is now being opened up to the public --- it's hard to say how it will evolve from here.

October 22, 2003

So I turn on the TV and there is a band on and I can't really see who they are but I haven't heard the song but I really like it and it turns out to be Sleater-Kinney. Then it turns out to be a documentary about the Olympia music scene and they are showing these buildings I have been inside and these people I have met. Oddly enough, a few days ago I also turned on the TV to see a mock short documentary by Matt McCormick (of Portland) called "The Unconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," which was narrated by my friend Miranda July. I grabbed my housemate Amy because I wanted to show her something with Miranda in it, since she hasn't seen any of her work. And it turned out that right afterward was a short film that happened to be by a friend of Amy's. I love these sorts of coincidences.

October 21, 2003

Catching up...

We are trying to have a salon/performance/exhibit/film/music series here at the loft. It might end up being a series of 1, but who knows. We've got a space and we're looking to find people to do things here, be it music, performance, reading, video (we have a beautiful video projector), discussions, etc... please send me your ideas if you have some. If you don't live in New York send ideas too; we can play recordings or show your artwork if you have some.

October 14, 2003

On Saturday I realized that random images coming into my head consisted primarily of scenes from sitcoms. This because I had spent much of Friday trying to do some work while at the same time leaving the television on in the background. I decided to try to think of something else --- to shift my perspective. That night, I had strange dreams, and on Sunday, everything shifted. Different thoughts popped into my head, such as: what if our personal history were not fixed, but rather it changed --- for example, every several years our parents would change? Not just that we'd choose different people to play the role of parents now and again, but rather who are parents were in the past would somehow change every several years? We'd still remember the time when we had different parents and a different history, and we'd remember the shifts or changes in that history. Another thought: suppose there were a religion where instead of confessing to priests, people confessed to professional comedians (still, however, behind that screen grate).

Later, over lunch, J. mentioned an experience she had had early on while meditating: she saw her hands as somehow independent from her self, and she also realized at the same instant that this is how she had seen her hands when she was a baby; not as part of her "self" but simply as these things floating in her visual field, doing things independent of her. As she was saying this I was eating, and I became aware of the complex movements of my hands --- and I realized that I really had not been conscious at all of their intricate movement. They were just moving, on their own, in a sophisticated dance choreographed outside of my conscious awareness. When I paid attention to their movements, I had that same feeling of disconnection --- my hands, autonomous, maneuvering in complicated ways, not entirely under the rule of the thing I call my "self." Most of what we do is like this: walking, breathing, etc... yet we maintain a persistent illusion of control nonetheless.

October 8, 2003

Spent the end of last week at a meditation retreat in the mountains near Fresno. We held it at this Greek Orthodox convent --- well, not in the convent, of course, but in the retreat facilities affiliated with the convent. It was quite interesting on a number of levels --- in one of the curious moments, one of the members of our group, George Weissman (a semi-retired physicist at UC Berkeley), decided he was interested in meeting the abbess up in the convent. Four of us decided to go up there and meet with her --- she was very talkative, and she seemed pleasantly surprised that our main questions were about the practices that they do.

She described a prayer and an associated practice that bore a strong resemblance to many of the meditation practices in Buddhism and other Eastern spiritual traditions. She spoke of "bad thoughts" going "out" and how they tried to call them back into the heart (she pointed at her heart), until they were willing to rest there. Of course, the whole thing was couched in terms of Christian theology, but her descriptions of their actual experiences while doing this practice were strikingly similar to that which we go through doing our meditation practices. She kept referring to a sort of circular movement, going out into the world and coming back inside, all while reciting this prayer and thinking about purification of the heart and the thoughts.

It's interesting how theology can differ radically yet the actual experience of those who do some sort of contemplative or meditative practice can be quite convergent. The chief differences between what she was describing and Zen Buddhist practices are that the nuns seemed to conceive of meditation as a process in time, and they also have a theistic theoretical position in which they are invoking an idea of God. From a Zen perspective, meditation isn't so much a process of attaining something in the future, so much as it is a way of noticing that which is already the case (the timeless reality which we are all always already participating in, whether we are consciously aware of it or not). However, things aren't always quite what they appear --- apparently it is a standard position within the Greek Orthodox religion to say that God is not rationally conceivable, cannot be captured conceptually, and is in everything and everyone (a notion of an immanent, inconceivable God). If one thinks of things this way, the Greek Orthodox notion of God isn't all that different from the Buddhist notion of the Dharmakaya, the ultimate ground of Being. Of course, in Buddhism this is described in non-theistic terms, and thus the Buddhist perspective is more compatible in flavor with a scientific world view. Nevertheless it seems that Greek Orthodox theology is more interesting than many others.

Anyway, another interesting thing is that I have been having some hearing loss and tinnitus in my left ear. This of course was quite irritating during sitting meditation. There is something quite disturbing about a sound that doesn't go away which you begin to think might be with you for the rest of your life. This tinnitus had been getting steadily worse, very slowly, over a period of the last couple of months. But at the retreat I had the time to do two things --- one is to relax in a certain way ("sinking my qi"), and the other is to stop trying to run away, so to speak, from my condition, and instead accept and embrace it (in a particular way, by extending and expanding into it, including it in an enlarged context). Of course, I've known this was what I "should" do --- but it was only at the retreat that I really decided to actually face the condition and accept it. Strangely enough, by giving up my "need" to have the tinnitus go away, I acquired an increased sensitivity to my condition and I developed, over the course of a couple of days of meditation, the ability to modulate it to a large extent. It's odd what you can "get" by giving up.

October 2, 2003

The night before yesterday I went to the opening of an art exhibit of Emerson Woelffer, put on by some of his former students. My father was a student of Emerson's and so I went there with my parents (well, they came on my dad's motorcycle --- I came in my mom's sports car. I kid you not.) It was very impressive, as always, to see these folks, artists and curators who have developed a sort of formidable presence by their very immersion in something deep yet basic. But they are impressive in a relaxed way, unassuming, not pretentious in the least... and they to relate to each other without regard for public status --- that is, they have their own sense of value, independent of the value bestowed by public acclaim. Whether someone is famous or not doesn't seem to matter a whit to them --- they evaluate people and their work in their own way, directly. They do have a sense that some have more capability than others --- but this sense is not grounded in external trappings of fame, but rather their own sense of human and aesthetic value.

Afterwards I went to dinner with my mom and dad, and my dad was saying that to them (students and close associates of Woelffer), Emerson Woelffer was one of the greats of American art, on a par with his friend and colleague, Robert Motherwell, for example. (I know that's how they thought of him, because whenever they'd speak of him they'd use a tone of great admiration and respect which I've long ago come to recognize coming from my parents.) However, for historical reasons (partly because Woelffer ended up spending most of his career in LA instead of New York), he remains relatively unknown --- as my father says, there is still not a single book written about him. Since I happened to have my GSM/GPRS phone and my Sony Clie with me, I decided to do a little Googling for the hell of it to see how famous he was --- there were 430 hits for Emerson Woelffer (1270 for just "Woelffer"). My dad asked me to look up some other artist names for comparison, for the hell of it:

Motherwell/Robert Motherwell312,000/32,900
Matisse/Henri Matisse698,000/153,000
Van Gogh/Vincent Van Gogh1,470,000/296,000
Warhol/Andy Warhol1,470,000/764,000
Pollock/Jackson Pollock1,480,000/85,800
Rembrandt/Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn1,880,000/5,200
Da Vinci/Leonardo Da Vinci2,760,000/768,000
Picasso/Pablo Picasso3,730,000/440,000

Thankfully CalArts (the successor school, in some sense too complicated to explain here, to the school where Woelffer and my dad taught, Chouinard Art Institute) is going to do a retrospective/tribute show to Emerson Woelffer.

October 1, 2003

Intuition is very interesting. A friend of mine (Leonore Wigger) gave a presentation on intuition at our seminar recently, and one study she mentioned was that when people were asked to give their first impressions about whether they would still be with their current lover after a few months, they were much more accurate if they blurted it out without thinking than if they were asked to give a verbal explanation of their reasoning first. Naturally, this is not to say that intuition is always superior to explicit reasoning: after all, it is also easy to fool ourselves.

But over the years I have learned to utilize my intuition in a variety of ways. I often seem to know, for example, what the impact of a given world event is going to be, something which I attribute mostly to a lot of unconscious knowledge, pattern matching, etc. For example, when Bush was "elected" I had the intuition that he and his foreign policy staff would get us involved in a monumental foreign policy blunder with potentially unrecoverable negative long-term consequences. I had the feeling that the relatively secure world we seemed to live in in the 90's was about to disappear.

When Bush gave his $87 billion Iraq speech, I had the distinct feeling that this would be the beginning of a very negative turning point for him and his Administration.

This latest scandal about the felony committed by some Bush Administration officials, revealing that the wife of Iraq policy critic Joseph Wilson was a CIA operative strikes me as another serious problem for the Bush Administration, even more grave than the disastrous $87 billion speech, and one which I believe will wake a lot of people up to the true moral caliber (i.e., lack thereof) of these people. It was, as some have put it, a dastardly act --- but even more, it was exactly the sort of petty evil that the great majority of Americans, conservative or liberal, instinctively abhor. It is comprised of two evils: going after someone's wife as revenge (something that strikes at the heart of everything that anyone, liberal or conservative, could possibly call decent) and the endangering of our national security as well as the welfare of patriotic citizens, undercover CIA agents, and all of their contacts going back as far into the past as their career stretches. It is not only unutterably wrong but I think shocking and sordid, and something that I suspect most Americans will viscerally recoil against, as well we should.

From tonight's Newshour, Larry Johnson, former CIA analyst:

LARRY JOHNSON: I say this as a registered Republican. I'm on record giving contributions to the George Bush campaign. This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear of an individual with no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it. His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted: to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend that it's something else and to get into this parsing of words, I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.