Book it

Who knew. I love books. I read approximately a book a week and count myself deprived if I come up short on access to a book, even for a day. Much of the credit goes to the McCracken Public Library in Paducah, a place that doles out a burbling stream of titles for me to peruse and bring home for free. Well, sort of. Because truth be told they are also on the receiving end of frequent late fees owing to the fact that I never seem to be able to toe the line on the three-week limit. But I’m pleased to pay up since this library service, free of charge to those less time challenged, seems altogether too good to be true. What a world… anyone can walk into this lovely air-conditioned space, sign up for a card, and gain the right to take any book in the building home to read. No charge.

The library is my shrine. Because of the books that are there and because of the abject liberty of their access. But also because its a community place where the congregation gathers around ideas. We can’t do without this resource. It offers sustenance for the culturally deprived brain. For free. Its a place where we borrow and return. It has internet. It has a quiet room. It has air conditioning.

We live in a different time now as someone told me. Yes, I noticed. Snippet time frame. Get it now and keep it short. Tweet or die. Attention deficit disorder as the new social norm. I’ve got to be honest with you.. I’ll take the long form any day. A place where a few choice sentences string together enjoyably enough to make entertaining paragraphs, culminating in well rounded chapters that actually go somewhere. Even quite possibly adding up to a book that actually means something.

And oh, a book! Excuse me Kindle and pardon my Ipad (I’ll certainly be getting around to owning you later…) but to hold a book in your hands and turn the pages. Ah… here is tactile sensuality. The cover art. The weight. Subtle pleasures. As in… gauging the portent of a new book from the way it feels. The inside cover giving you the teaser. The typeface do-or-die; right size, right feel, balanced against potential reward on the content. The first read on the opening paragraph. How does it “read”?

Then there’s the assessment of a book after its finished. I’ve had the experience with certain books of valuing their content so dearly that just holding them after finishing the last page provided me with a sensation that must be similar to what a medieval mystic would feel holding an icon of the faith. I’ve held books that hummed.

But now (as mentioned earlier) we live at a time where books are being called out. The paperless future beckons and the Kindle calls. As printed matter diminishes and electronic type ascends we will soon be at the point (are we there yet?) where the printed artifact becomes truly precious. Then we will revisit the days before mass produced editions. Strangely, this future may be much like days before the Gutenberg press, when hand-copied books were rare and incredibly valuable. In the not too distant future we may have a book in our hands that will be really worth something. If the book is any good, that is.

The Smell of Fresh Donuts

There are two types of people in this world, those who think there are two types of people and those who don’t. Well I think there are two types, except I also think that sometimes we are one and sometimes we are the other.

If you don’t agree with me, you might want to read something by someone who thinks there is only one type of person in this world. Go read an article written by someone who thinks everyone in the world likes french fries. He would argue that those fries elicit a positive response from a set of receptors found in virtually every human subject. They are located in the brain’s “Fried Food” region. That region is mapped to the same spot in every human brain, with a neural connection the size of a T1 cable to both the salivary and the “Get in the car and go” regions.

I’m suddenly having a difficult time concentrating on the point I’m trying to make about there being two types of people. By stating the opposing view using the best possible argument I’m trying to remain true to the Socratic Method. But there’s a problem. My counter argument happens to involve something so distracting, so crisp and irresistible. So yummy!

By now it should be patently obvious that there are two types of people, those who stopped reading this to go to McDonald’s to get some french fries and those who didn’t. But why didn’t you? And why didn’t I stop writing? Well my reason is that I…must…continue…this blog. Those who left to go out for that universally scrumptious fast food did so because they became engaged with the image of “golden fries in that familiar red-box” that leapt off the page at the mere mention, and by now have followed it to its natural conclusion at the local franchise. The expectation of that predictably delicious experience in deep-fried comfort food was just too darn tempting to leave alone as unfulfilled temptation.

Okay, who’s left here? We few, we superior few. We are the ones who have not given in to gratifying the signals from our brain’s fried food region. So we must be looking for something else. And here I’d like to talk about a slightly different area of the brain: the area identified by leading scientists at a major university as “art receptors.” These areas turn on or off within seconds of encountering a new piece of art and result in either “Like it” or “Don’t like so much.” And though its possible to adjust this initial response through familiarity, or by providing background information on the artist’s intent, it remains exceedingly difficult to reverse that first impression. And I would argue that in the current era, this area of the brain has formed a major neural pathway to the fried food region.

This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?
This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?

So the art theory that makes the most sense to me is this: the art that I make should have something about it that is the equivalent of a fresh donut. Something irresistible. Not that the process should involve actually making donuts since that would entail developing a separate business plan. And not that the work should really be in any sense a meal of empty calories. This is about providing a certain initial attractive element, akin to the smell of fresh donuts.

And now the corollary to Dave’s Theory of Art: the smell of fresh donuts must be, in the end, false advertising. Once you’ve got people’s attention, once their noses are fully engaged with the idea that a good thing awaits, something else should be ready to emerge. That irresistible smell of fresh donuts must be the hook that grabs our curiosity. But that “something else” should be a real idea. That idea can start somewhere familiar and inviting… but it should also invite us to go off at some point, somewhere strange and surprising.

So there are certainly at least two types of people. But the real difference comes when you think about those types; there are those who think we are always only one of them, fixed and permanent. And there are those (like me) who think about what it might be like to be both of them.

The Deal

Here’s the deal. Stefanie and I shared the Cowango Blog for several years and it functioned well as a forum for us to discuss our travel experiences and talk about some of the ins and outs of setting up homes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Paducah, Kentucky. Ever since we completed the two house-building projects in early 2007 and stowed away our travel boots the energy placed into the Cowango Blog has taken a hit .  We’ll still be posting there occasionally, for the next year or so at least, but it’s time to move on.

Stefanie and I are still very much in love and I am more intensely married to her now than ever before but this connubial blog thing had to go. Yes, we are now going through a blog divorce. Fortunately, there are no children.

Stefanie’s new blog is called “Accidental Truths” and you can read her postings by following the link here or at the left. 

My new effort is called “Life in the Hyphen” because I’m all about that little dash. For me it represents the information flow between hard categories. It’s that little qualifier that keeps me from thinking I’ve nailed down the big “What It Is”. The process of discovery ends for me when I decide I know what I know. I love conversations that roll back in forth in the spirit of “Yes, but what about…” And so I use the image of the hyphen. The place between the two. Here are just a few that fascinate me:

art-craft

exotic-common

new-old

realism-abstraction

When I explore the connection between these ideas I start to discover a motive for what I do when I’m working at art. A dynamic description comes out that is less “either-or” and more “both-and” (hmm… seems even trying to describe it requires hyphens). I find art and the art-making process incredibly hard to talk about because the descriptive categories we employ often seem so leaden and unfit. Yet I am driven to try anyway. Life in the Hyphen will be this attempt. That little dash will be my thread.