This morning I awoke to find myself in Chicago. How did I get here, you might want to know? I woke up in my bed in Manhattan as usual, and went to wake up my computer from its sleep and check my email. I noticed I didn’t have any internet connectivity, so I rebooted my router. That fixed the problem of connecting, but something was off. I now had been assigned a new IP address (the unique identifying network address that every computer connected to the internet has) by my cable company, after a full year of it never changing. And this new address was from their Chicago block of addresses, and so everything from facebook to google to geolocation apps were telling me that I was now in Chicago. Without getting too technical or geeky, let me try to explain it to you in layman’s terms. Every IP address on the internet can be looked up by any number of databases that tie that IP to a geographic location somewhere in the real world. This is useful for all sorts of reasons. For example, if you have ever traveled with a laptop and noticed how google will change your default maps location when making suggestions, this is why. And there are many, many other sites and services that are much more useful when they know where you are coming from. Hulu (and a lot of network streaming shows) won’t work, for example, if it detects an address that is coming from outside the country. Many bandwidth speed testing tools use this info to locate servers near you for testing. Google will change your search engine version and language if you are in another country as well. All of these things are based on a looked up location for you based on your IP. Sometimes these databases agree with each other, sometimes they don’t, and they have to be updated constantly as blocks of addresses can be reassigned anywhere at any time. So although I don’t have anything against Chicago per se, it is kind of annoying that the internet now thinks I am there. I called my cable company to report the problem, and they are looking into it. Worst of all, it doesn’t even think I am in one of the nicer neighborhoods (say, by the lakefront). It put me in some lumber supply warehouse at the end of a dead end street in some place called Pilsen. Hmmf.
Since the 16th, I have had house guests every single night. First my nephew Bert, then an acquaintance from Buenos Aires, and finally my dear friend Mike from LA. Mike just left this morning, and as happy as I am to have my apartment guest free for a little while, I will be sad to see Mike go. We had such a wonderful visit catching up and hanging out, very low key but perfect for reconnecting. I am furiously trying to convince him to move to New York, and he tells me he might one day. I only wish the weather had been a little warmer during his visit (the better to convince him). Mike is one of a handful of people in my life that I feel I will always be close to, no matter the distance or time. His being here over the past few days really reminded me of our bond, and how special he is to me.
My nephew Bert left early this morning on a plane back to the midwest. It was nice having him here for the last few days, I feel like we got to know each other and feel a little closer as family members. We went to the MoMa yesterday and saw a few cool exhibits, and I think we connected well over some of the work and ideas presented. We talked a fair amount about his education (he is an art student) and what he wants to do next, and I tried to encourage him to think big, and challenging. I know everyone is different and feel at home in the world in a variety of ways, but I hope he takes on some things that scare him and stretch his boundaries. Being that his father is English, he could have a European passport with very little trouble and I tried to explain what a huge advantage that could be to him. When I was living and working in Europe, I was always a bit marginalized by my on-again off-again legal status, and having a passport would have made working and living there a breeze by comparison. I told Bert that the challenge of figuring out another culture, especially one with a different language, can be extremely empowering. Because once you have, you never look at other places with as much trepidation, and you realize that you really can go anywhere and make it work. You realize that the main thing stopping us from launching ourselves into the foreign, the other, the unknown is our fear of it. Getting over this fear and reveling in the interesting differences between cultures and individuals is something I hope he can access if he wants to. In talking about his art and graffiti, Bert mentioned a couple of times the desire to show pride in where he is from, and not let New York and LA define his work and style, but be more authentically Indiana, or midwestern. I think this is potentially admirable, but I also know from experience that if you only have one type of contact with the world and don’t live outside of it, you have nothing really to compare it to, and that “choice” doesn’t really end up looking like a choice at all, it is simply the default. Experiencing the “other”, brings us back to what is good (and just as importantly, bad) about our own culture. And it brings us in connection with the common humanity in all of us.
My nephew Robert (Bert) has been in town visiting the last few days, and it has given us a chance to get to get to know each other a lot better. Bert is 22, and for various reasons we have never really spent any appreciable amount of time together. I have always been closer to his older sister, probably because she is gay like me and that gave us a greater opportunity for bonding over the years. So it has been nice with Bert to get a sense of who he is and what his interests are.
Primary among these interests is graffiti and street art, and yesterday we even went on a little tour in the LES and EV, where it abounds in quality high and low. It was pretty fascinating to hear about this subculture, which shares many features with other subcultures as various as sports clubs, gangs, samurais, and anarchists. There is a pretty convoluted set of signs and symbols having to do with showing respect or defacing works by other artists, and the very term artist is pretty loaded and complex when looking at the difference between a simple tag vs block vs stencil, etc. Our guide was pretty adamant that a definition of graffiti is just about the medium, but I am not so sure. I don’t think it can be separated from the social and political context of commission, permission, and vandalism. That is to say, once something has been commissioned, it has lost an essential ingredient in the making of graffiti. It may be art, it may be very high quality, but the essential trespass that street art/grafitti represents is definitive to the culture. Which is not to say I approve of it. Our guide mentioned some statistic that 30% of people still think graffiti is vandalism (vs 70% that don’t), but I would guess it totally depends on the quality, content and location of the work in question, and that opinions vary wildly. I have to admit myself to viewing most simple tags as mere vandalism and a cry for attention from an angsty teen mentality. But in some of the more complex block styles and stencils and paintings I see something much more interesting and beautiful, and am much more likely to view them as art and not defacing. This is part of what makes graffiti so fascinating, that one is almost obliged to revisit, over and over again, the very definition of art. One other aspect to graffiti culture that my nephew was explaining to me and that seems obvious on reflection is a kind of one-upmanship having to do with the difficulty of accessing a particular space. Bert seemed most impressed by the works that were high up and potentially indicative of a danger to the producer either from the police or gravity and vertigo. This all plays into some kind of honor/glory code among graffiti artists and gains them street cred. And this leads to “guestbook signing” (writing a small tag next to a work to show respect for it) vs “buffing” (defacing, working over, or otherwise covering a work to show disrespect or challenge). And then there are the crews and gangs that band together to protect the member work, share ideas, mark territory and sometimes deface other work en masse. My nephew made a few other interesting points about graffiti relating to bringing art to the people and making them notice, since most of them would never set foot in a gallery or museum, and this is a point I hadn’t directly considered. We also talked a bit about our culture and I brought up the idea that graffiti is (implicitly or explicitly) a comment on the nature of property and ownership. After all, what does it mean to mark or change something that someone else claims ownership of, without their permission? I have very conflicted and complicated feelings about these things that have much to do with the particulars of any situation, and don’t lend themselves to easy formulas of acceptance or rejection. And maybe that is a good thing, because it keeps the debates about art and social utility alive. After all, one of the worst things one can show to others is callous indifference.
Someone in my family (who shall remain nameless to cover the awful shame they should be feeling right now) is, how shall I put this charitably, putting out a large fire made up of their pants at the moment.
I routinely help out my family and friends will all manner of technical support free of charge. One such family member informed me of a problem they were having with a recently upgraded (by me) website they are using. They were trying to post to facebook via a plugin and it wasn’t working. I tried the same thing on their site with my browser and it worked fine. So I knew the problem was either in the way they were using the plugin or with their computer. And because I am not in the same city and right at their computer, I needed further information to be able to troubleshoot the problem. I asked them to verify on another computer in their house, so that we could rule out a problem with their particular computer. This person sent me an email telling me that they had tried on the other computer and the problem remained. So I called and said I could remotely connect to the Mac in the house (they are on a locked down PC from work that I can not remote into) and they could stand and watch as I tried to do the same thing. Indignant, my family member asked how that was possibly going to help them, and I said that I suspected it was a user error problem (since we had already ruled out that it was only one computer), and that we could resolve it by either watching me use it correctly or verifying that there was a very strange problem on their local network. There was a pause and then I heard,
“..I lied. I didn’t feel like checking it on the other computer, so I never did.”
I was flabbergasted.
Would you go to a doctor for help and lie about why you were there or what medicines you were taking? Here is my family member, asking me for FREE HELP, and they can’t be bothered to troubleshoot their own problem a little bit? Really?
All I know is, it is really hard to trust someone the next time once they have lied to you. I hope you are proud of yourself.
I don’t know about you, but if:
- I was going on a long trip away from home, and
- I called a friend at my destination to ask for a place to stay, and
- he said yes, and
- I told him the dates of my arrival, and
- I then, for whatever reason, changed my mind about staying with him,
I would probably call him to let him know, wouldn’t you? I had a few email exchanges with a Brazilian friend who was coming to New York for a visit this past weekend, apparently staying until Wednesday (tomorrow). He asked me for a place to stay, and I told him that I was out of town until Sunday, but he was welcome to stay with me after that. So we agreed that he and his friend would stay Monday and Tuesday night. He sent me a message last week letting me know he was flying out Friday night and would be contacting me Monday. I spent some time yesterday cleaning up the apartment and getting it ready for guests, and waited to hear from him. And waited. By six in the evening, I decided to send him an email. No response, and by midnight I just went to bed. I still haven’t heard from him. Some cultures are just a lot looser about these things than ours, I suppose.
I had a really nice time this past weekend in Boston. Or should I say, hanging out with my friend Ruthbea and her husband Neil at their place and celebrating Ruthbea’s 40th birthday. It was nice to get caught up and meet and drink and eat (and eat) at the party with her friends. I also had a nice time in the car on the way there and back with the NYFORs, they are really a lot of fun. I have known Ruthbea since 1999 in San Francisco, and it was interesting how much water has passed under the bridge since then. Since we don’t see each other all that often, we spent a fair amount of time collecting the pieces of history and sharing details of a few missed experiences. I also got to know Neil a little bit better, and see what a really sweet guy he is and how great they are together. All in all, a great weekend. And now that I am back I have a mountain of work to attend to…
After a mostly unproductive last week, I got my mojo back yesterday and was wicked productive today. And that’s very good, because I am leaving this afternoon for Boston, to help celebrate my friend Ruthbea’s 40th birthday. I am sharing a ride with some other NYFORs (New York Friends of Ruthbea), and we are driving to Boston at about 4, probably to arrive around 8 or 9. I adore Ruthbea, and am really looking forward to seeing her (and her family), even if she does live in Boston. I know lots of people think that Boston is great, but it is truly one of my least favorite cities anywhere. Perhaps this has a lot to do with how over-rated it is, especially in the eyes of its own citizens. I mean, if it had more of a humble attitude about itself, like many cities in the midwest, one could be genuinely surprised by its charming old buildings and such. If I was expecting, say Dayton OH, but the city was as interesting as Boston — I would think “hey, what a wonderful hidden gem of a place”. But unfortunately, Boston likes to compare itself to world class cities, a group of which it is certainly not a member. In the 5 plus times I have visited, I have never discovered anything that made me remotely want to live there. That said, I would much rather be in Boston than Gwalior or Cincinnati. These things are relative, you know.