Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rampant Hendricksen's Soul

It wasn't every day that Rampant Hendricksen felt like thinking about her mother. She had tried to kill Rampant, after all, eight times. Eight times as far as Rampant could remember, but it could have been more. Trying to kill Rampant had been a sort of a form of recreation, no more destructive than the other recreational activities in the Hendricksen household.

Staying alive had become Rampant's recreation. Finding hidey-holes and escaping through windows, floorboards, wall elements, and roof hatches became an obsession in its own right.

And so it was that Rampant Hendricksen could never be entirely domesticated, and sometimes in the middle of a meeting or friendly gathering she would excuse herself to use the bathroom and simply vanish. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pivot Chair's Phone Call

As Pivot Chair walked down 14th Street, he sensed something odd. Something was reaching to him, something was vibrating in the gray morning air. He peeked around the corner to see if someone was standing there, waiting. But the street was empty. A receiver hung down from a pay phone. Underneath the dangling receiver was a quarter. 

"I'm a fucking fool," thought Pivot Chair, as he knelt down to pick up the coin. The coin moved. He reached further. The coin moved again. Someone was pulling a string. He nodded to himself. Someone always is. 

Old as he was, Pivot wasn't nimble, but he wasn't slow either. He grabbed the phone receiver. He spoke into it.

"God. Pivot here. If this is really you, make it move to the left."

Pivot waited. And waited. And looked at the coin. It inched to the left. Not much, but enough to be noticeable. Pivot Chair nodded. He got off of his left knee with some difficulty, dusted himself off, and went on his way. He left the coin behind. For today, he knew he had been blessed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

War and Peace

Summer grass
all that remains
of young warriors' dreams.
                 - Basho

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

West Oakland Sutra for the AK-47 Shooter at 3:00 AM

by Yusef Komunyakaa

the bang gotta be
so loud ears can’t
hear simple prayers
all night long casings
clink on the pavement
& color the street silver
so loud fragments of gut
& flesh cling to the plak-a-plak-plak
you unload your magazine
so loud windows shatter on babies
the bang gotta be
so loud you can expend bullets
& not feel emptied
till you are no more
than an endless round of ammunitions
on rival turf
you load your magazine
hold that trigger
so loud all the dollars & drugs in this world
can’t placate your bang
to ricochet against the concrete
the bang gotta be
so loud you can’t
just remove bolt and carrier
& pack it out of sight
crime in the city
modern man in the firing position
you gotta get zeroed
in on every desired range
so loud the trigger locked
in pull unloads like a runaway gun
into it into it so loud
killing is pre-conscience
the bang gotta be hard
killer bang to hear
& know the adrenaline
we are made of die young
cause if you wanna howl
this rifle be ready
to let the devil use your head
for a target

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New day

It's a murky road ahead, but one thing I know is that the electoral actions of American citizens have made it so that I will be applying for my citizenship on President Obama's watch. And I may be eligible to vote for him for his second term.

I can get behind that, so thanks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Those Quirky Finns

When the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center at MoMA in New York had an exhibition of Finnish contemporary art called "Arctic Hysteria", the New York Times published an odd review that mostly attempted some kind of ethnographic analysis of "the Finnish character" based on the art. Finns seem to have a "deep quirkiness", declared Ken Johnson, the critic.

He was right of course. Here is a "commercial break" produced by the Helsinki-based design collective Anteeksi. (The name means "We're sorry".) The commercials are meant to go together with their self-produced soap opera about the fortunes of the Scusi family.

Anteeksi also make marvelous products such as the Crate chair, and clothes, such as Untitled, and produce events and happenings. In their dayjobs they create more conventional designs and concepts - you can see those by navigating the links from the bottom of the main Anteeksi page.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

La résistance n'est pas futile

Resist is a film starring Gael García Bernal, a social network, and "a quest for people whose actions are shifting our perspectives on the world, a search for people who are inspiring new ways of thinking, acting and being, who are instigating change from below."

The Myrtle Street Review is a quest for people who are instigating change by looking at things sideways. But we like "from below", too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Pictures on Myrtle Street Review

I take some of the photos, but most of the good ones are taken by my husband, also known as Watson. 

Among his many other talents are stock making, barbequing, looking handsome, engineering, stating the obvious, building things, being a great dad, explaining stuff, and going on adventures.

I'm a fan.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Naked Confessions of Love for Oakland

Sometimes I drive home past a group of teenagers hanging out on Filbert Street. Their school, McClymonds (which now houses two separate high schools) is part of Oakland's rather notorious school system

Me, I went to school in what is reputedly the best school system in the world. The Finnish Comprehensive Schools were fashioned after the East German educational system in the sixties. After World War II, when Finland was still a developing country, it was decided that a good education, free for everyone up through University, would be the best way to pull the country out of poverty. Et voilà. Education is considered to be one of the most important reasons why Nordic countries have the highest social mobility in the world. My grandmother grew up shoeless and starving and clawed her way into the working class, my mother educated and married herself into the lower middle class, and I am the first university graduate in my family. My government gives everyone a small monthly stipend who gets into the free universities, so we can finish our degrees.

And so I look at these kids in West Oakland who are essentially living in a developing country inside a superpower, and I can't wrap my head around their experience in any meaningful way at all. I feel like I am from the Moon. I listen to the emotional somersaults people - rich, middle class, poor, everyone - have to perform to justify what's going on. I feel like I am listening to the spoiled child and the abused child of the same family making excuses for their belligerent, unstable, unfair parent. If you are shit out of luck, you had to somehow deserve it.

Moaning expats are tiresome, so I mostly try to keep it to a minimum. But this is one of the things that hits me like a baseball bat and leaves me floored. It seems so blatantly obvious that education equality is a good thing, and not just for the people who gain better opportunities. The educated become drivers of innovation, and create more opportunities. They aren't going to steal the slice of the pie meant for the private school kids, they are going to make the pie bigger. For everyone. I mean, take gay marriage. How can it be a surprise to anyone that progressive legislation doesn't pass when the single clearest indicator for progressive voting behavior is a high level of education?

I feel a naked, childish, shame-ridden love for everyone who exists inside this system - lucky or unlucky, rich or poor - and holds onto their human dignity and kindness. The ones who don't harden themselves with defenses and excuses and emotional crutches. The ones who keep tinkering away on creating change. The ones who dare to be vulnerable and real. My neighbors.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finnish Grandmothers and Other Necessities

Seeing this Jesus graffiti made me think of my grandmother. She was a cook in a prison. For the guards, not the prisoners. Later she was a mail person. She was really into Jesus.

She always told me stories, and I would request the same ones over and over. It's crazy that I heard them so many times, but now I can't really remember them any more. I remember something about how she and her sister painted shoes on their feet with some tar, because they wanted to go for a walk in the village and all the good people had shoes. A lot of dirt and leaves and feathers and whatnot stuck to the tar, and they looked awful. Their mother was really mad and spanked them. My grandmother told me fairy tales too, especially one, "Adalmina's Pearl", which I also wanted to hear again and again. I later got a book with that same fairy tale in it, and I remember thinking that my grandmother's version was much better. I don't remember what happens in "Adalmina's Pearl." A pearl is involved, and an Adalmina. 

I don't want to forget all my grandmother's stories. I need to ask my mom and write them down. And my mom's stories, too.

Will I really do this or will it be one of those things. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Heavy Metal in West Oakland

Metal flows in West Oakland's veins: it arrives on boats, trains, and trucks. Scrap metal collectors wheel it around the streets on bikes and in shopping carts. Processing plants turn scrap into raw material. Metal fabricators, building contractors, steel platers and pipe makers make industrial products from raw steel and other metals. Artisan welders, sculptors and blacksmiths create one-of-a-kind useful objects and art. There is a whole hive of metal and fire artists and hobbyists. Metal is in the air that we breathe and, consequently, in our bloodstream and brains. It creates jobs, commerce, movement, and health hazards. 

Amid the clanging and banging, hissing and blaring, residents go about their lives in a somewhat magnetized state. It does tend to make everyone extremely social.

This pile of anchors can tell plenty of salty tales and can be interviewed here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pareidolia, Religion, or Art

Pareidolia is a subset of apophenia. It means perceiving significance in stimuli that have none. (Apophenia means seeing patterns in data that have none.) Both of these diagnoses, naturally, depend upon thinking that someone can objectively judge what is "data", "patterns", or "significance".  

Does significance have to be shared to be significant? If someone sees Jesus in a tortilla, and is moved to, say, quit smoking or be nicer to their grandmother, what does it even mean that "there is no actual Jesus in the tortilla?" Is seeing a representation of your higher purpose, your dreams and hopes, in your daily bread, that crazy? And insisting that those dreams and hopes don't exist, at least not in a tortilla, is "saner"? I can't decide which argument sounds crazier to me.

Clarence Irving Lewis said that since there isn't any way to judge whether our perceptions are "true" in an absolute sense, there isn't anything we can do but evaluate whether our purposes and goals are thwarted by the information we perceive. Two people with different purposes may see entirely different patterns and significance in the same data.

Seeing patterns and significance where another person, with a different purpose, didn't see it, is an act of creation. Art comes from it, and humor, and insanity, and religion, sometimes all at once. 

And herewith I present this picture of Garnier Fructis ascending to heaven, next to the acronym "YMT" ("Your Madness Transforms").

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Peace in Oakland

At sunset tonight, Oakland will collectively slow down into a deep, meditative state. People will sit quietly and explore their feelings about the interconnectedness and fragility of life. As they emerge onto the streets later, they will cautiously seek each others' eyes and look for connection. They will smile, sadly, but feel a tinge of hope nonetheless. They will share cups of tea. They will hug.

The neo-colonialists in denial from Berkeley and their permanently pubescent compatriots from San Francisco will stay the fuck home and deal with their anger about their parents in some other way than coming to Oakland and taking over people's peaceful protest about the death of a young man at the hands of police, and turning it into a shitstorm.

It may be that this can only be achieved by someone going over there and spiking their drinks with large doses of ecstasy.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Secret Forest in West Oakland

Through the hole in the fence, the trees seem small. But once you're inside, they are towering and tall, and the forest seems to go on all the way to the bay. Birds chirp, woodpeckers knock-knock, deers gallop gracefully, and mosses and lichens cover everything. Tiny wildflowers grow on the forest floor, and a small brook burbles and weaves its way through the threes. It is always slightly dark, due to the great height of the trees. They make a constant, low hum that makes it feel like time has stopped, and everything is going to continue just like this forever. A small blue tent sits almost invisibly underneath a great fir. Who lives in it, nobody knows.

This secret forest was not added to the map, because it is a secret.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Here sat Zarathustra

He sat quietly for a long while, and just before getting up and leaving, he said:

O man, take care!
What does the deep midnight declare?
"I was asleep—
From a deep dream I woke and swear:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day had been aware.
Deep is its woe—
Joy—deeper yet than agony:
Woe implores: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, wants deep eternity."

Zarathustra's chair was found here.

Design needed a recession. Now it's here.

In August 2007, Icon magazine published an article titled "Why design needs a recession". Well, we are told that recession is here. Presumably, that means a respite from some of the sillier excesses, at least until the next bubble. Will Favela Chic become about truly affordable, recycled style, as opposed to well-off people pretending like they went to Brazil and felt all ironic about poverty? Will yuppie geeks breathless with their own sense of entitlement rethink spending $100,000 on speakers? Will the Financial Times rename its weekend supplement "How to Not Spend It?" 

Will we see a return to common sense for a while? Will designers apply their skills to what people need - sustainable production, recyclable materials, cleaner energy - rather than trying like crazy to come up with new, extravagant things for them to want? My grandmother would be pleased to see that happen, if she was still here.

Article spotted on Things Magazine.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Secret Blimp Landing Site in Randomville

At this site in Randomville (also known as Emeryville) is where the spies do their blimp pickups and drops at night.

It turns out that the spies are poets, who are much more powerful people than is generally acknowledged. Poetry conspiracies are commonplace all over the world - such as l'affaire neo-concretist in Sweden. 

I can't reveal much, but I will say this: be on the lookout for those notebooks.

Dances With Alarms

Daniel Eatock's work kept being interrupted by hypersensitive Lithuanian car alarms when he was staying and working in Vilnius in 2007. In response, he started going out, waiting for the alarms to turn on, and dancing to the sound. The Myrtle Street Review congratulates Mr. Eatock on his creative response to an environmental irritant, and wishes him nicer things to dance about in 2009.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Verbal Narcotics

"Using ancient methods and drawing on Chinese herbology, The League of Imaginary Scientists have developed an experimental line of verbal narcotics, a non-invasive alternative to surgery, a cure for the whole person, in a healthful dose of vocabulary. League specialists splice consonants and vowels to create experimental drugs and new words, employing synonyms, acronyms and best of all, anagrams, to recontextualize the human body."

On the website, there is a helpful "diagnose me" button, but it doesn't seem to work. Either that or I am completely healthy. 

To see the video about verbal narcotics, scroll to the "Meta-physical" section at the left of the page.
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