Thursday, July 29, 2010

3 Poems from 2003

the great killers have always emerged from a similar set of conditions: a solitary lifestyle, abandoned at birth, an aquatic environment, a restless, wandering nature, constant, sleepless nights, the actual inability to breath in stasis, flexible cartilage skeletons and denticle exterior to reduce friction.

the great killers have always shared a similiar psychology: minimal introspection, a need to keep moving and (unable to pivot the head or torso laterally) not to look back.


A necessary development in ichthyology

the proxemics of fish will require your complete goddamn attention. no longer will the aqueous motions of teleostei continue unaccounted for. in the past perhaps we have been lax - foolish - as recent events have made us all too aware. now is a time for specifics, for the exhaustive cataloging and analysis of the individual gesticulations of fish; the way their fins, gills, and various tissues pass seamlessly through the water; the way the water parts for them and closes in behind; the icebreaking and tugboating of the fish itself, as if it were pulling a barge of water through the ocean.


attempting at once to bypass the brain, to perceive from the stem directly.

a subsidence of thought, of the method of approaching thought, of the causal and ritual sequence involved in the process of thought. a motion towards architectural disintegration, the horizontals as well as the verticals. an anarchy of joints unsutured. taking as its end the fatal agitation of subcranial frequencies, the oneiric alongside the sentient. to be sure a lengthy process - at once unpopular and incommunicable - derelict of salable qualities, yet yielding semantic and syntactic liberation, the unmitigated experience of reality, as with "any of a large genus of naked rhizopod protozoans" to quote the founding fathers in their sparse and brutal eloquence.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shop Talk

We're going to attempt to unravel one of the mysteries of human existence here tonight. As anyone will tell you, we are social creatures. Somewhere deep within the chemistry of our brains, we need social contact. This varies from individual to individual to different degrees, with the gray area of diagnosable psychological conditions hovering at both extremes: being co-dependent or misanthropic. As the mysterious result of the ages-long, convoluted science experiment that is human existence, it has been decided that the best way for us to function is to physically need interaction with each other. All else that falls into the category of "Culture" and its many subcategories follow from that.

And where does this impulse lead us? The motivation is there, but it's unfocused, a vague yearning. As a fairly introverted person, I notice this often. Watching other people, it often seems they are physically unable to exist in a space for any length of time without striking up a conversation, text messaging on their cell phone, or talking or singing out loud to themselves. This happens especially in unstructured social situations - like waiting. Waiting in line at the store, waiting in a doctor's office, waiting at a bus stop. The gregariousness almost seems performative, needy, even desperate when you're as {self-contained?} as I am. It's something I've always been perplexed by, like watching fish through glass, or perhaps being a fish looking out.

Enter Shop Talk

What is shop talk? Shop talk is a very focused thread of conversation revolving in a tight pattern around specific, objectively-verifiable circumstances and subjects. Anyone who has been around a couple Guy-guys for more than 3 minutes has witnessed the phenomenon known as shop talk. The first two minutes constitute time spent looking to the side off at the ground and taking a sip of beer so as not to seem to need the interaction that will follow, but we are social creatures and so the third minute usually begins something like this: "That your Mustang I saw in the driveway out there? That a '67? Great year for Fords." And WHAM!, you've hit the ground running.

The great thing about shop talk is that it draws upon a predetermined and clearly understood field of knowledge. This knowledge is easy to acquire, can be repeatedly infinitely and, by virtue of its objectivity, serves to create a quorum of opinion after the well-worn series of point-counterpoint arguments have been dutifully acted out. It doesn't matter what subject you're talking about: whether professional or college basketball is more in line with the spirit of the game, whether the American league system of DH hitters or the National league's having pitchers bat is better, how to rebuild the engine of a 70's muscle car, what gearing your fixie is, or what cellphone has the superior collection of apps. What's great about shop talk is that it provides a well-worn spectrum of conversation that safely includes differences of opinion, irresolvable arguments that can be rehashed again and again, a wealth of technical knowledge and detail to fill the space, and, ultimately, a sense of resolution and of order; of all the parts of the world being right and fitting into place as the credits roll at the end of the day. All this, and somewhere along the way you get your hit of human interaction without seriously challenging your beliefs or how you live your life, as well as providing affirmation of your worth and bolstered confidence in your specific conception of reality. It's especially great when these "thoughts" and "opinions" are repeated verbatim from talk radio, be it sports, NPR or Rush Limbaugh; because, why do the work yourself when you can just get the Cliff Notes?

What is shop talk? Shop talk is a very important lubricant in human interactions. We need these interactions. Without them, we'd become crazy, weird, and self-destructive, much like the biological phenomena Island Gigantism, in which otherwise normal creatures evolve to freakish proportions in isolated conditions. Among humans, this leads, approximately, to what Tom Waits so aptly describes in his song What's He Building?, or else what this asshole is doing. Shop talk gives us a forum in which to reaffirm each other, ourselves, and our sense of an ordered and understandable universe.

Not Your Daddy's Shop Talk

Up to this point, I've used bombastically stereotypical male examples of shop talk, but shop talk isn't just for men. I would also classify as shop talk: gossip, ogling over babies, discussion of relationships, as well as more technical and cross-gendered topics like work-related gripping and, really, discussion of the particulars of any hobby, be it baking, books, philosophy, what kind of camera you have, woodworking, embroidery, or comparing the virtues of different household appliances. I think shop talk for women tends to be more abstract and shop talk for men highly specific and concrete, but feeling are just things, after all - things that can be studied, argued about, and decided upon. And it's all just entertainment in the end, isn't it? Just a way to pass the time and "get your needs met", as my friend Christine calls any manipulative behavior (Christine does social service work with kids who have serious emotional issues and generally fucked up lives). Perhaps this is zoomed out to the point of transcending what it even means to be human, but it's all just a way to fill the void, isn't it? And what better way to do that than to discuss something especially technical, which is simultaneously safe and easy and contains a breadth of knowledge which never runs out and is infinitely renewable from conversation to conversation? Shop talk is the freaking Fountain of Youth. It's El Dorado. It's the Holy Grail.

Which makes me wonder, what else is there besides wonderful, glorious shop talk? Does it, in fact, adequately satisfy all human needs?

I guess there are the things you talk about when it's dark out, and you're walking through the empty streets with a friend, and the constraints and constructions of the world have slipped away, and you may or may not be smoking a certain decriminalized substance, and you... imagine. You summon into existence infinite iterations and variations of world between you. Shadows stretch out to become chimeras and houses look like foam core scale models. The branches of trees move enigmatically, casting sibylline shadows as you gaze into rooms washed in TV blue, wondering at how strange it is to think of others existing so near and yet impossibly removed.

Or maybe, the opposite of shop talk is simply generalized speech. Linguistically, shop talk falls under the heading "jargon", a subset of a language focused on the collection of words and ideas encompassed within a specific area of knowledge. While discussing the back stage functioning of a candidate on the campaign trail may be a subset of political jargon, discussing how you feel, what you're thinking and learning and how you're growing certainly is not. So, what is this strange, threatening, unfocused collection of words and morphemes? Just existence, I suppose. Just some people, figuring out who they are. Perhaps the space in which growth occurs. Perhaps just the unknown and the unknowable, and the will to puzzle out into them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Which Japanese Car Should You Buy?

Because, clearly, buying an American car is out of the question. Unless it's the Pontiac Vibe, which is actually a Toyota spy.

I thought I'd compare two advertisements this week. What they share as a common point of reference is that both are produced by major car companies (both Japanese) and both were released exclusively on the internet (as far as I know). At the risk of giving away the ending, I'll give you the synopsis right now and say they're both utterly spectacular. Not having watched TV in years, I usually find myself completely absorbed by advertisements when I see them. There's a special place in my heart for advertising that's done well, and that, in some small, evil way, makes the world a little bit of a better place.

Honda - The Cog

This unbelievable, Rube-Goldberg machine is made in one continuous shot without the use of any CGI or digital mumbo-jumbo. It took 606 takes to get it right. Six Hundred and Six. That's what it would look like if you had to write it out on the DOLLARS line of a check. What's incomprehensible to me, besides the sheer accomplishment of the feat, is that a giant multinational corporation had the balls and the tenacity to produce a work of art this compelling and ephemeral. Because of this and other things I've heard, I am especially impressed and intrigued by the way Japanese businesses are run.

A bit of trivia you might not know if you don't talk to Gabriel at the Columbia City library branch, The Cog ad is actually derivative of a much earlier, much more dangerous and less polished German short film by the especially German name Der Lauf der Dinge, or The Way Things Go. The film came out in 1987, is 30 minutes long and was filmed in a giant warehouse. It is much rougher, relying more on chemical reactions than the crisp mechanical actions of the car parts in Cog. It also lacks the central concept and clean execution that makes Cog so impressive (The Way Things Go is clearly edited together, fairly roughly in some spots). The Way Things Go, which you can get from the Seattle Public Library, reads much more as some science guys getting together and seeing what they can do with all the bits and pieces left at the end of the semester, which is nice in it's own, B movie sort of way.

There are some beautiful moments in The Cog. The tuning fork hum of the exhaust pipe as it circles wiggling around on its pivot. The sequence of 3 nails that activate each other on the hood, each describing its arc on the alternate side, completing a single S curve between them. The little wheeled radiator fan whose power gets cut off just as it gets up the juice to roll. The stainless cylinder that has to stop and wait for the automatic window to sense its presence and lower its glass. The mobile of window panels that knock over a steel plate with the force of a breeze. Even that it all really does start with a lovable little Everyman cog.

What really ties this work together, though, providing the guiding concept that all the components use as a touchstone, is to use all parts from the car in the machine, and that the creators had the patience to give them each the space to perform in a manner that most highlights their attributes and potentiality. The windshield wipers, in particular, illustrate this point - seizuring across the floor, 2 jerks forward, 1 jerk back, their spastic movement simultaneously capturing the anthropomorphic struggle of a creature trying to accomplish a task and perfectly referencing the peculiar circumstance of seeing them so out of context. Even the use of music - not as atmosphere background element but keyed by a sequence of actions and using the cars own speakers, yet another part of the machine. You have to love how they bring it home - using the direction from the key-chain control to the actual corporeal whole as it rolls off the ramp for its perfectly lite glamor shot. After watching that video at least 20 times, I couldn't even tell you what model car that is.

Toyota - Swagger Wagon

Toyota takes an entirely different approach to gain your respect and affection. Whereas Honda went for stunned admiration, Toyota elects for hilarious, demographically-targeted antics.

From the cut up cinematography and stock imagery of a rap video (fortunately for Toyota, rap videos often center around the rapper's ride) to the ingenious call out "Where my motherfathers at?", what's there not to love about this little culturally-appropriating number? In particular I like the jiggling jello mold paralleling the booty shaking of dancers and especially the absolutely perfect and utterly disinterested dancing of the daughter.

Toyota seems to be making a very deliberate decision as to the gender roles of the mother and father in the video. Throughout the course of the video, the woman says she's "better with the money, so she handles the bills", and in another ad (it's a series) she wins rock-paper-scissors and walks away, leaving the father to change the child's diaper - both reflecting a sort of hip equality that transcends your parent's gender norms. The father, for his part, has a little more ego as an actor and some of his movements seem just a touch harsh and out of sync with the rest of the video. Regardless, the focus for both parents and the main message of the song is how devoted they are to their kids, which is why you're buying a Seinna, right?

As with the last video, the ending uses the keys to the car, which I guess is the symbol that you, the consumer, are supposed to identify with. The taking ownership of this expensive and worthwhile object that is either finely machined down to the tiniest cog or else hip and funny and humble and the mark of a good 30-something parent who wants to balance personal style with parental responsibility. They do a nice twist with the ring of plastic Playskool keys.

The Sienna family (you noticed that, right?) is actually featured in a series of ads Toyota put out. I believe this is the original, because the others are more episodic. I watched a couple and they're not nearly as good. Trivia on this one - I don't think it's a direct influence, but the ad definitely reminded me of that old Dynamite Hack version of the Easy E song Boyz in The Hood.


I've gotta say, as much as I enjoyed the Swagger Wagon ad, and as much as I identify with being a white person who loves seeing white people mocked or mocking themselves for not being as cool as black people, it just didn't have that utterly adroit coherence and unimaginable execution that The Cog did. Maybe the call here just comes down to whether you're more of a cerebral person or a fun person. Clearly, if you know anything about me, it's that of the two, I am a more cerebral person.

So, there you have it, get out there and buy yourself a freaking Honda something or another and show your appreciation for the art form. The arts don't thrive on free Art Walk cheese, box wine and illegally downloaded music alone, you know.