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Google Etiquette

Google Etiquette

Of late I listen to an audiobook: Paramahansa Yogananda on the Bhagavad Gita, as explained by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda. The Gita is one of the great scriptures of enlightenment, a conversation between Krishna the God of Love and Arjuna the universal devotee, right at the moment when Arjuna beholds a civil war in which he is supposed to fight.

“Brother against brother, cousin against cousin, how can I fight in this terrible battle?” Arjuna asks, his heart breaking. Krishna has an answer, and Yes, Arjuna is supposed to fight. This life is a play of shadows, rebirth is a certainty, consciousness is evolving, at one level, we must live out our dharma.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Krishna’s answer. One scripture or another is always in hand, and I always debate with it in my head. I am on a journey and I don’t have answers, I have questions, and boy oh boy, do I have a lot of opinions. Just because some holy person centuries ago wrote something doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Used car salesmen, the lot of them. Prophets, scribes, proselytizers, and disciples, all selling their brand of God. As if God could be a brand. Or defined by any one person, one path, or one book.

My husband Sabin finally forbade me to read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at bedtime, because it riled me up. I’d try to draw him into a debate and then sleep restlessly, arguing in my dreams. But I don’t think we’re supposed to take any gospel literally. It’s my opinion that we’re supposed to struggle with the words of God, all of us like Jacob wrestling the Angel of God. Finally, a blessing is bestowed.

Another of the great scriptures that has a longtime spot on my nightstand is The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. I like Patanjali’s work because it’s methodical. He gives a practical curriculum for advancing in consciousness. I want to get there from here–don’t ask me where ‘here’ and ‘there’ are, what progress consists of, or how it is measured. I’ll send a postcard when I’ve arrived. Meantime, there are these paths. Ahimsa, nonviolence, is one of the crucial ones.

For the last few years I’ve undertaken ahimsa in my language. Specifically, refraining from the violence of dishonesty. Honesty comes easily to me, but sometimes too bluntly. I tend not to tell lies. But I can tell truths with a sharp edge. So the deeper, more textured layers of this issue fascinate me, eg, the small dishonesties that pass for social courtesy. Because kindness matters, too. Kindness is the crux.

How do I tell a scrupulous truth without hurting someone’s feelings? For example, how do I refrain from saying that a haircut or dress is flattering, when it’s butt ugly? How do I negotiate my simultaneous responsibilities to the truth and to kindness?

Which put me in a sticky situation recently, when I visited with someone who I knew had googled me. This person asked me what I did, as if it were unknown. Well, the spouse had googled me. Marriage being what it is, I assume the spouse had shared information about me.

There is a crude but effective invisible hit counter on my website. It gives useful stats about visitors to my site: how many page loads, what state or country. Usually the information is pretty anonymous. I can tell that someone using Verizon internet in New York state was on my site, for example. It’s great fun to see hits from distant countries.

Sometimes a large company or institution names their ISP network after themselves, so the name of that institution or company appears. For a while, my middle daughter had my website set as her default Safari page on her macbook. I knew when she took her computer to school and played on it, because a user on her school’s network would pop up on my counter.

The day before the visit with my new acquaintance, who is a lovely person, my counter showed the name of the company where the spouse works. Now, this isn’t a small company; it took me a while to figure out who at that company might have been interested in me. But it’s not that hard. I went to the company’s website and took a look at the page on their employees. One of the names matched a name on a list of people I’d been given, some of whom I’d also googled.

So, out of truthfulness and kindness, what am I supposed to do when someone pretends they know nothing about me, but there’s an indication that they’ve googled me?

In this instance, surprised, I opted to play dumb. I said that I was an author. And then eventually the conversation came around to spouses, and since I’d taken that first step into the shadows, I asked what the spouse did. As if I didn’t know. It was distressing to be in this position, holding hidden information like a steaming potato. I felt like a liar. That’s not who I want to be.

But if I admit to googling, do I seem like a stalker? If I admit to googling and the other person doesn’t, do I position them as dishonest, which is unkind? If I mention that I know that they’ve been on my website, is that a violation of privacy, another unkindness?

What are the rules of kindness and honesty in the world of immediate information via google and statcounters? What would Krishna or Jacob’s Angel have to say about the virtual world?

The day after that visit, I had a business meeting with a married couple who told me straight out, up-front, no BS that they’d googled me, been on my website, and watched the video clip. It was a great relief. It made me like and trust them. It seemed to me that the universe had sent me this latter experience as a foil to the prior one, to illustrate for me the way that I was supposed to follow. The Universe works that way, with care and great intelligence, for seekers and strugglers.

From now on, I’ll confess straightaway to my nefarious googling and statcounter information. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it with courtesy and tact. That’s my growing point.

Social Questions
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Social Questions

Last night at a pre-Sundance party in NYC I had the great good fortune of meeting the talented and impressive Anthony Whyte, whose work is being made into a movie.

He was there with his business partner Jason Claiborne, who runs Augustus publishing, “Where Hip Hop literature begins,” and fellow author Erick S. Gray.

They were an intriguing trio. Whyte has a background in the armed forces, as did my dad, so we had that to discuss, as well as books and movies.

This morning I did some googling around and learned that Whyte had trouble getting his first novel published. He then self-published, and people were so hungry for his message and his platform that he sold several thousand books quickly. Of course then a publisher jumped on the bandwagon, bought the rights, and republished… to sell over a hundred thousand copies. Pretty good! Whyte mentioned none of this to me; he was classy and unassuming, and left it to me to discover his story.

We talked about Zora Neale Hurston, author of the classic THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD. I remembered reading how Hurston had ended her life working in a library, and as a maid. It’s distressing that she died in obscurity, enduring financial struggles, when she’d written one of the masterworks of American literature. It left me thinking again about some questions that my oldest daughter had posed to me, over a year ago, when we discussed an African American Literature class she had taken: How did we in the U.S. create an underclass that left an entire group of people disenfranchised, struggling to find and authenticate their voice?

Is it enough that we have elected Obama as president? Is it enough that brilliant minds like Whyte, Claiborne and Gray are not accepting the status quo regarding their work, but are going out and creating new opportunities?

What does it take to create a truly equal society based on the hard work and merit of the individual, without regard to race, gender, sexual preference, and religion?

I hope none of these questions are offensive. I don’t know if they are politically correct or incorrect. They are the musings of a basically white woman of mixed genetic heritage who can not document her Native American ancestry because records were lost during the Trail of Tears. I’m just a mom with smart, irreverent kids, who ask good questions and expect me to engage them honestly.

And what else about the party? It was too much fun for the responsible parent I am, and included me introducing myself to a famous TV/movie actor who now believes I am sketchy. Because I did make a sketchy introduction, and he was far more gracious to me than I deserved. But I had to sally up to him with my big, tipsy grin–if only to be able to text my kids that I’d met him.

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Post Modern Irony isn’t worth the toilet paper to wipe it off our collective tushie…

Post Modern Irony isn’t worth the toilet paper to wipe it off our collective tushie…

A sub-title could be, “How to make money off people who are afraid to appear stupid.”

There is an art movement afoot. It is a movement to bring back values to art. It is a movement to bring artistry back into art, artistry founded first on an aesthetic of beauty and truth, second on real craftsmanship, and third on an extraordinary grounding in, and comprehension of, the history of art and the great, seminal problems of form that were last faced with integrity by the likes of Gauguin. By “craftsmanship” I mean years of training, apprenticeship, focus, and hard work.

An artist should be better trained than a lawyer before he or she starts selling his creations.

The art movement is tentatively called “the new realists.” My husband Sabin Howard is one of them. There’s an off-shoot called “the slow art movement,” patterned on the “slow food movement,” which affirms the quality of food and the dining experience in a restaurant that doesn’t take shortcuts but takes the real time required to make the ultimate reduction, for example.

You can eat at MacDonalds, if you wish–but we all know it’s going to make you sick.

Speaking of MacDonalds. We’ve all been victimized by the scam artists of post-modernism. One hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp did us all a disservice by foisting a urinal on us. Okay, for 2 seconds, there’s a surprising juxtaposition, a shock. Intellectual chicanery. But “they” are still doing urinals, one hundred years later. Shock value is over, guys. I guess it’s just hard to leave the ponzi scheme.

All these post modernist pieces that have garnered acclaim–Piss Christ, Dung Madonna, anything by Julian Schnabel–they have a few seconds of shock value. And nothing else. They have no sub-stratum of meaning or value, no connection to a historical continuum and the crucial dilemmas of composition and structure and light, to rest on. HOWEVER, art critics, PhDs, and museum curators like post modernist pieces because they can blather on about how important they are and RACK UP SALES. Folks, it’s about money–scam art–not real art.

Koons worked at the Met and saw how the trend was going. He’s a smart businessman, I’ll gladly give him that.  But he’s no artist, and he’s not creating art. And not just because he doesn’t actually make the stuff, he hires NY Academy students and kids in Italy to do it, either. (I hear he pays them $15 – $18 an hour.) It’s because the expensive chotchki’s he’s putting out there aren’t art.

Is it big business? Yes, but so was Bernie Madoff.

I congratulate Mary Boone and that ilk on their rat-like street cunning; I can admire a pickpocket with the best of them. They created a movement that they were able to perpetrate on people who were afraid to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” So many people have been afraid to denounce this crap for the crap that it is because those gallery owners and PhD students could BLAH BLAH BLAH them under the table. No one wants to look ignorant. And boy oh boy them salesmen and dissertation wonks can really talk! But the impact of visual art is visceral. The point is–the silent truthful ones weren’t ignorant. They were being railroaded by mercenaries.

Yes, your five year old kid can do something equally worthy.

There are no masterpieces of post modern art because the stuff isn’t worth the cardboard, dung, condoms, or lucite case that are used to make it. It’s ugly and valueless. The banal is only worth about five seconds of our time; Marcel Duchamp took up those five seconds. The fact that the National Endowment for the Arts funded this junk on the basis of freedom of expression is one of the great idiocies of our time.

Freedom of expression does not validate the ugly, the meaningless, the valueless. It’s still junk. It’s just junk that the NEA funded–to the shame of the USA.

Specifically, post modern art lacks beauty and truth. It lacks transformational power. It lacks the capacity to vault us out of the coma of our everyday life into a state of heightened awareness, heightened consciousness, greater compassion for the human condition, increased seeking for what is higher. Yes, it makes money for the brokers and museums who pawn it off on people. (I heard that the director of the Brooklyn Museum got a kickback for showing some of the junk; can’t say if it’s true, but it was told to me by an art critic who runs a foundation in Manhattan.)

Look for the new realists. Look for the guys like my husband Sabin Howard, and I guess Jacob Collins is one of them, and I really love John Morra’s work, who are taking the long road around to create something meaningful and real, something that addresses art with integrity. Something founded on an aesthetic of beauty and truth. They may not be the most popular people around, but hey, the doctor who told everyone to wash their hands before delivering babies got railroaded out of medicine. Go look at Frederick Hart’s work on the National Cathedral. I admire Burt Silverman’s portraits, too. Check out Daniel Sprick. I personally find Judy Fox’s sculptures cartoonish, but they’re cute. Worth looking at. She seems to be engaged in it and she’s competent.

Go find the artists who have studied their crafts for years, who are engaged in what art means on a daily basis. They’re there. One thing is for sure: your five year old can’t do anything REMOTELY like what they do.

These are the guys who deserve millions of dollars. I am convinced they will reach those heights–Michelangelo died a millionaire–and that the tide will turn as people get sick of meaninglessness and search again for values, meaning, beauty, and truth. We’ll find the Koons balloons in the garbage where they belong.

Last note: my husband looked at this blog and exclaimed, I’m not a realist. Then he said, Oh lord, they’re going to sue you. Just to clarify, this blog contains my personal opinions.