Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Crazy Artist Types

Posted on Wed, Jul 29, 2020 at 4:43 PM

The ‘Invisible Man’ undresses. - PHOTO BY ARMIN LOFTI
  • Photo by Armin Lofti
  • The ‘Invisible Man’ undresses.

Artists are better at coping with challenges—because we’re crazy. Last spring, Artnet News published an interesting piece about researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence—yes, apparently there is such a place—that found that creativity correlates with psychological weakness … (wait for it) … and mental strength (phew!).

“In 1963, the pioneering creativity scholar Frank Barron wrote that the ‘creative genius … is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner than the average person,’” writes Rachel Corbett in a piece that boasts the longest headline ever published: Artists Are More Anxious and Depressed Than Those in Other Professions—But They Are Also Better at Coping With Challenges, a New Study Says.

File this under “Tell Me Something I Didn’t Know That Also Justifies My Bad Behavior and Fragile Self-Image.” What’s interesting is that Barron’s seemingly contradictory claims were reached via “personality tests and interviews” during the early “Mad Men”–era, prior to the use of more empirical processes. And yet, “they may turn out to be verifiably true,” writes Corbett, Artnews’ deputy editor. She adds, “In other words, the artists were both ‘crazier’ and ‘saner’ than the non-artists, as Barron phrased it.”

Here, here.

Interesting how “non-artist” is essentially used as a synonym for “neurotypical.” Of course, this reading correspondingly suggests that artists are inherently “neuroatypical.” This I’ve always found to be a kind of sloppy catch-all for those whose mood, anxiety and personality disorders (not to mention glistening, effervescent talent) diverge from an imaginary norm. And despite the voguish notion that so-called “invisible disabilities” like the ones listed above are, in fact, superpowers. But the truth is, no matter how dramatically I remove my glasses or rip open my shirt, no one ever says, “It’s Superman!” so much as, “He’s off his meds!”

Meanwhile, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has created a rubric that might be useful for those, like me, who need to upgrade their super-ego to see how well they measure up. Meet RULER (see what I did there?), an acronym for the five skills of emotional intelligence (recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating). I have zero mastery of exactly all of the above, which may qualify me to be a guinea pig at the Center. This is the only way I’ll ever get into Yale. New Haven, here I come!

Daedalus Howell is writer-director of the feature film ‘Pill Head,’ now playing on Amazon Prime.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Crisis Is Our Brand

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2020 at 6:25 PM

CLOUDY With a chance of mutually assured devastation. WikiCommons - WIKICOMMONS
  • WikiCommons
  • CLOUDY With a chance of mutually assured devastation. WikiCommons

In times of crisis, some Westerners are fond of saying that “crisis,” when written in Chinese, consists of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” This is an interesting, even optimistic notion, that also happens to be wrong. It’s the kind of aphoristic observation that culty CEOs like making when they go “full guru” in front of their minions. Danger and opportunity aren’t just “two great tastes together at last” for these guys, it’s a panacea for nervous shareholders at best and justification for profiteering at worst.

Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania writes that the “crisis” misnomer is the province of “pop psychology” and “hocus-pocus.” So why does it endure? Because it contains a kernel of truth. A crisis can present an opportunity—an opportunity to say the right thing, the right way, at the right time. But don’t worry, that’s not going to happen right here, right now. I’m still trying to wake up from history.

As they say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, sing it unintelligibly over some power chords. Barring that, my generation—X—has a professed preference for bluntness over rapier wit, so if I say anything, whatever it is, it will just sound rude. And dull. I mean, why glide one’s intellect over the fine-grain sharpening stone when you can bang your head against a wall instead?

Speaking of self-soothing, you have to remember that none of us expected to outlive the Reagan era. The world was supposed to end in a nuclear holocaust and the pandemic du jour was AIDS, which arrived in time to stymie a generation’s sexual awakening (didn’t work). And when we weren’t waiting for death to arrive, we waited for our parents, hunkered down in front of afterschool specials that taught the horrors of moralizing between commercial breaks, as we turned a latch key in our Cheeto-stained fingers.

“As the generation raised in the age of stranger danger and Just Say No, our inherent risk aversion is finally being recognized as a great strength and asset to the survival of the species,” wrote Megan Gerhardt for an NBC News think-piece. 

Agreed. 

Crisis is my brand. In fact, I understand that the word “Crisis” is actually the combination of the expressions “cry for help” and “isolation tank.” Crysis—why is this not a band already? Let us be, so that we may scream silently in our hearts.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

When should movie theaters reopen?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 3:42 PM

Should I stay or should I go? - PHOTO BY JAKE HILLS
  • Photo by Jake Hills
  • Should I stay or should I go?

Netflix fatigue. It’s practically a pandemic itself. The remedy? A shot of real-life cinema—square in the eye—coming soon to a theater near you. Someday. Maybe. Not.

Back in April, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Theater owners have increasingly begun to float the possibility of reopening sometime in July, in the middle of what would normally be Hollywood’s key summer blockbuster movie season.” On Monday, Gov. Newsom made it clear that theaters would not be opening any time soon—and so go the best-laid plans of Mickey Mouse and men. 

Were it not for the recent surge (wear your masks, people!), cinemas could have seen their re-opening “under strict physical distancing protocols,” according to a proposed “Phase One” plan. Frankly, even when that was a possibility, at present writing the prospect of sharing a room full of recirculated air with hundreds of strangers seems so passé. And, you know, suicidal.

I shouldn’t quibble about theater air quality—in the ’80s, I used to work at a theater that still had a smoking section. But even if one takes precautions (like forgoing popcorn to wear an N95 mask), it’s difficult to imagine losing oneself in a film when every cleared throat could be a cornucopia of contagion.

And I love movie theaters; they’ve been good to me and I want them to survive. Besides some kind of quantum reset to get us back on a pre-pandemic timeline (and eliminate Trump and systemic racism in the process), I suppose all we can do is get healthy, which is a group sport (and not everyone is playing). 

Until then, I’ll stay home and experiment. Browser extensions like Netflix Party or Amazon Prime’s new “Watch Party” button are possible pathways to a shared cinematic experience. We successfully ported Happy Hour to Zoom, so why not movies? Last night I laid out $12 to stream Beyond The Visible: Hilma Af Klint, about the under-appreciated inventor of abstract expressionism. At least part of the ticket fee went to the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archives (BAMPFA) via a digital daisy chain that included Roku, KinoNow on my mobile phone, and the microchip in my head. It was worth the hassle—and the dough—because cinema is still important. Movies are still big, it’s just, to borrow a line from Gloria Swanson, “the pictures that got small.”

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Apres Nous

Posted By on Wed, Jul 8, 2020 at 4:28 PM

Painting by Eugène Delacroix.
  • Painting by Eugène Delacroix.

Je dis ça, je dis rien is a French idiom that translates literally as, “I say that, I say nothing.” Its nearest English counterpart is the comparatively flip “just sayin,’” which is as close to a raison d’etre as I can presently muster for this column.

You see, the problem with being a humorist during unfunny times is that the joke is inevitably on me. Fortunately, self-satire is a forté of mine. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism developed from bearing a weird name or a career spent pissing in the wind from the bloodshot eye of a storm of mixed metaphors. Or, I’m just regardant mon nombril

This much we know—I made a pledge to avoid writing about Bay Area Bastille Day celebrations because A) encouraging people to gather during a pandemic is irresponsible and B) Francophiles. 

To avoid both, and the possibility of accidentally writing about them, I decided to flee the area and hide outside the jurisdiction of my beat. San Francisco seemed safe. Traffic at the Robin Williams Tunnel was at a standstill. Why the Marin side of the tunnel’s triumphant arches aren’t festooned with Mork-inspired rainbow suspenders and half-moon button is an opportunity missed. I didn’t, however, miss the opportunity to exit, which is why I was soon strolling Sausalito’s Caledonia Street. 

I took a socially-distanced seat outside the nearest café, which turned out to be called Fast Food Français. The name sounds like an oxymoron. Does gourmand France even have fast food? I suppose if Tarantino is to be believed, there is such a thing as a “Royale with Cheese,” ergo there must be a Gallic McDonald’s. 

I ordered a glass of Mourvedre. And yes, it’s difficult to sip wine through an N95 mask but, to misquote Jeff Goldblum, “wine finds a way.” I ordered French fries. They came wrapped in a fake French newspaper. I began to write for this real newspaper in English: How to Celebrate Bastille Day. Pro-tip—sing. 

There’s probably a Bastille anthem but neither of us knows it, so just crank the U2 but sing “Bastille Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Or, whenever you encounter a gaggle of un-masked Trump supporters, re-enact the scene in Casablanca when the French refugees sing “La Marseillaise” over their German occupants croaking “Die Wacht am Rhein.” Then switch to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” if they figure out the political subtext. Or, don’t. 

Daedalus Howell is revolutionary at DaedalusHowell.com.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Poetry as Prophecy

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2020 at 1:10 PM

W.B. YEATS  A gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun. - PHOTO BY ALICE BROUGHTON
  • Photo by Alice Broughton
  • W.B. YEATS A gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun.

I’m hazy on the details, but apparently a couple of freelance astronauts parked a Tesla at the International Space Station, Trump outlawed Twitter or something and the river of sh*t, racism, murder and disease that America presently resembles caught on fire. I dunno for sure—it’s difficult to sip from the news firehouse while wearing this N-95 mask. 

Frankly, the only thought I’ve had of late is a lyric from a song by Yacht:

“I thought the future would be cooler / I thought the brave world would be newer.”

The future has proven neither cool nor new as the same old stories cycle back into the media—white cops perpetrating violence against people of color, a mystery disease killing thousands and the finger of an entertainment industry figure resting atop the Button. This is not the nuclear bang promised Gen X at the apogee of the Cold War. This is worse and somehow more radioactive.

So, do any other lyrics fit this moment? Thousands. Any line from the “Ball of Confusion” works as well, if not better, as does “The End” by the Doors—before the snake bit (“This is the end, my only friend, the end”—too doomsday?). As Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian points out, however, the lyric of our times is not from a song but a poem and that poem is and always has been William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

Lynskey wrote an analysis about the poem’s enduring utility as shorthand for troubled times that included a look at some of the work’s greatest hits:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”

And…

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Sound familiar?

“If it feels especially potent now, perhaps it is because we have become painfully accustomed to the idea that progress is fragile and it is all too easy to fall back,” writes Lynskey. “The only consolation the poem offers is the knowledge that, for one reason or another, every generation has felt the same apocalyptic shudder that Yeats did 100 years ago.”

Perhaps it’s my own naivete or a relative lack of years but this turn of the cycle seems … different. There is a constellation of bright lights just over the horizon and if you squint at these stars just right you might even see what they spell: To misquote Yeats, “Surely some revolution is at hand.”

Daedalus Howell slouches toward Bethlehem at DHowell.com.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

In Defense of G-ville

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 7:53 PM

TAPPED OUT: Gregory Hines starred in Eve of Destruction for some reason. - COURTESY ORION PICTURES
  • Courtesy Orion Pictures
  • TAPPED OUT: Gregory Hines starred in Eve of Destruction for some reason.

This arrived in my email a couple of weeks back: “I was dismayed to see that the Guerneville Safeway has brought back the single-use plastic bag.” The writer went on to remind us that a countywide ban on plastic bags went into effect in 2014, that they are unrecyclable, and that no matter how beautiful that one looked in American Beauty, they’re ugly litter in real life. “It is my hope you'll help get Safeway to cease and desist this scourge on our beautiful home.”

I’m on it. Here’s what’s happening: On March 4, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-54-20, which suspends the statewide ban on plastic bags for 60 days citing concerns about the spread of Covid-19. However, those cities and counties that had a law on the books before the state law went into effect in Jan. 2015—cities like Guerneville and counties like Sonoma—are still banned from using single-use plastic bags, despite the order.

84 days have passed since the order was issued—it expired on May 3. Even if the store in question was understandably confused by the executive order, they should have ceased nearly a month ago. The local edition of the company website states “Reusable bags are not allowed until further notice to ensure the health and safety of our customers and employees.” A call to the Guerneville Safeway established that plastic bags are still in use; however, contact with management has yet to be accomplished. Our investigation continues …

Eve of Distraction

Here are the three points you need to know about 1991’s sci-fi flick Eve of Destruction: the titular character was a blond android who also happened to be a nuclear bomb; star Gregory Hines’ performance can be entirely summed by his expression on the poster, which asks, “WTF am I doing here?”; it was shot in Sonoma County. At some point, Hines announces that the android is on her way to “Guern-EE-ville.” Yep. Like “gurney” with a “ville” tacked on. A gurney—like the one Hines’ career was apparently on before a redemptive turn on Sesame Street the following year as a tapdancing magician.

Anyway, this is the moment I realized I had Sonoma County pride. Hearing Hines say Guern-EE-ville was like a chalkboard waking up on a bed of nails—it sounded hideous but was an arresting image all the same. The Hines Line is the last part of the film I remember, it was also my first thought when I learned he died in 2003. And for you, Guerneville, I will never forgive him.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Star is Bored

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 4:05 PM

KNOCK KNOCK Don’t answer; it’s probably a filmmaker. - NATHAN WRIGHT
  • Nathan Wright
  • KNOCK KNOCK Don’t answer; it’s probably a filmmaker.

Why wait for the inevitable deluge of COVID-19-themed horror films when you can script your own? Every filmaker worth a roll of gaffer’s tape is plotting their pandemic feature right now—don’t be left out like you were during the Great Burning Man Documentary Deluge of the early aughts.

Stay home, lock the doors and start your screenplay with our free Instant Pandemic Plot Thickener system.How does it work? Like this: If your house was haunted, wouldn’t you just leave? Normally, yes, but the pandemic plugs this age-old plot hole by promising a slow, painful death if you go outside.

Boom—you’re trapped! And … the wifi is down! If that’s not frightening enough, use the following screenwriting prompt to add more chills: In the dead of night, your partner whispers in your ear “I think there’s someone in the house …”Remember, this is a movie, not reality. In reality, everyone is so utterly bored with each others’ company that you’d welcome the intruder with open arms and a bottle of wine. But in the horror-show version of your quarantined life, the moment has to be bone-chilling. Choose one of the following:

1. Someone is surreptitiously living in your attic, a crawlspace, or the secret room that is discovered when the blueprints are examined in a dramatic second-act revelation.

2. YOU are surreptitiously living in the attic to avoid your family.Now add one of the following tried-and-true tropes:

1. A malevolent spirit inhabits one of your child’s toys, preferably a doll, especially the kind with eyes that suddenly open for no reason.

2. Your kid has an “imaginary friend”—with an Edwardian-era name like Gwilym—that they “talk to” through the closet.Pick one, then get jealous that the kid has someone to talk to who isn’t related to them. Start talking to Gwilym yourself.

Write down what you say. Presto—your screenplay is practically writing itself!At some point in your script, write a character who works in a spiritual capacity (a priest, exorcist, bartender, etc.) and have them attempt to purge the evil spirit through a Zoom call.

At a crucial moment, have your screen freeze and then run to every room in the house with your laptop trying to get a better connection. When you finally find a signal and resume your video call in the darkened bathroom, have the kid wander in and turn on the light … revealing—Ahhh!—you’re just talking to yourself in the mirror!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Rolling the Bard

Shakespeare’s B-Day Weed

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 5:02 PM

nbb.mps.2017.presspass.jpg

April 23 or so marks William Shakespeare’s 456th bday. For the sake of this chat, however, let’s just say it’s his 4-20th birthday. Because the question of the day is “Did Shakespeare smoke weed?”

Doobie, or not doobie? That is the question—the one that circulated the Internet a few years ago when anthropologist Francis Thackeray suggested that William Shakespeare might have sought creative inspiration by smoking pot.

Thackeray is the director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and in 2001 he conducted a study that found marijuana residue in pipe fragments unearthed in Shakespeare’s garden.

Though cannabis was cultivated in England during Shakespeare’s day for rope-making and other textiles, it’s unclear if it was used recreationally. “Some Shakespearean allusions, including a mention of a ‘noted weed’ in Sonnet 76, spurred Thackeray’s inquiry into whether Shakespeare may have used the mind-altering drug for inspiration,” wrote Life Science journal-contributor Stephanie Pappas.

About five years ago, Thackeray contemplated petitioning the Church of England to open the Bard’s grave and undertake a chemical analysis of his hair and nails in search of marijuana traces. There has been little mention of the project since. Because—I surmise—Thackeray is no longer high. Given some lines in Sonnet 76, I could see how, in certain states of mind, a phrase like “compounds strange” could be a pot allusion, next to the aforecited “noted weed.” Especially after a bong hit.

Two questions come to mind, however: Why are some always eager to pin the inspirations of creative types on dope? And secondly, who cares? W. H. Auden took Benzedrine in the morning and Seconal at night, but few mention it in the same breath as his poetry. And strung out as he was, even Auden addressed hazards of reading between the lines of Shakespeare’s poetry. This is from an introduction he once wrote to the Bard’s works:

“Probably, more nonsense has been talked and written, more intellectual and emotional energy expended in vain, on the sonnets of Shakespeare than on any other literary work in the world.”

But did Shakespeare smoke pot? Does it matter? Meh. Sure, my own writing is better when I’m high, but I only think that when I’m high. For the record, I wasn’t high when I wrote this ... though maybe I should’ve been. Anyway, Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. Get it? Shake…speare. Okay, I’ll stop.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Verdant Veritas

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 12:16 PM

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For some, the story of cannabis in California begins with the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016. For author Frances Rivetti, however, the narrative goes well “beyond the Redwood Curtain” and into a “shrouded underbelly” larded with criminality.

Big Green Country is Rivetti’s “journalistic reconstruction into fiction of what’s really going on in this part of the world, today.” A British expat-turned-local-journalist and now-novelist, Rivetti’s first two books are the nonfiction Fog Valley Crush and Fog Valley Winter, which record the region’s farm-to-table movement and immigrant agricultural history. Though Big Green Country is a marked departure for Rivetti, at least in genre, her creative process mirrors that of her journalistic work.

“I spent the first year researching, talking to many people on both sides of the fence, growers and folks who’d grown up in Mendocino and Humboldt as well as young people, especially women who had experiences as trimmers,” Rivetti says. “I read crime reports and government reports and firsthand accounts of women who have been sex trafficked.”

Initially, she thought this process would yield a local version of A Year in Provence. Instead, she uncovered a culture of lawlessness, rural poverty, addiction and alternative medicine, a broken health care system—and the stark reality of human trafficking, all within the region known as the Emerald Triangle.

By using a reality-based backdrop, Rivetti hoped to shine a spotlight on aspects of our region that have often gone unseen.

“Every time I’ve read to a group, one or two people in attendance confessed that they had absolutely no idea any of this was happening in our region,” says Rivetti, whose characters and their experiences are fictional departures from real people and events.

In the meantime, Rivetti is considering the options for promoting Big Green Country during the shelter-in-place mandate. She was fortunate to speak to local book groups prior to the quarantine but is now considering virtual book events via apps like Zoom.

“It’s not easy to get the word out as an indie author and I believe that now is the time for us to look at the books being written by those in our communities,” Rivetti says. “I actually think this is a revolutionary time to write and publish and I am glad that I am able to utilize my reporting skills to share important stories, via nonfiction and fiction.”

‘Big Green Country’, Fog Valley Press, 358 pages. Available locally from CopperfieldsBooks.com as well as Amazon.com. More info at FrancesRivetti.com.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Seize life by the quote

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 6:00 PM

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When I first stood on the periphery of what we could call my screenwriting career, some Hollywood wag asked me “What’s your quote?” He meant “what’s your rate, your fee, your market value?” But I thought he meant my favorite movie quote—like, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which I wish I’d said. Years later, I found a writerly quote that I love and HATE because ... it’s a meme.

With an image of a sunset … words hovering there, in all caps, over a shimmering sea like some Wayne White word painting. It reads: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

Who would say such soothing sophistry? Insert Internet wormhole here. The quote is most often attributed to George Eliot, of whom everything I know fits in two data points:

A) He was a she. Or, rather, she used a male nom de plume because women writers weren’t taken seriously in the 19th century.

B) She was not George Sand, who was also a 19th-century writer and used her pseudonym for the same reasons.

Also, names were just plain complicated for her, as she once wrote: “My name is not Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Marquise of Dudevant, as several of my biographers have asserted, but Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin.” And then she probably added, “Screw it, just call me ‘George.’”

So, George Eliot allegedly writes, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” and a century-and-a-half later, Rebecca Mead, in her New Yorker essay “Middlemarch and Me,” tries to find the origin of the quotation, which she first read on a refrigerator magnet. Then Mead observes, “the sentence didn’t sound to me like anything George Eliot would say” and some literary sleuthing ensues. Spoiler alert—it’s made up.

But it begs the question—what did you want to be? Did you want to be a writer too? I wanted to be many things. Too many things. But the unified field theory of my life has always included writing in the equation. And though writing can sometimes feel very far away, let me assure you, there’s always a way back. If you’re the writing type, this is what you do: Write a word. Then another. And another. And so forth.

At some point, maybe change your name to George. But do the work—it’s okay to start now—because, frankly, my dear, it’s never too late to be what you might have been.

Starting April 6, download Daedalus Howell’s books for free at DaedalusHowell.com.
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