Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Own Circumstance

I decided to get that MA in art history and spent two years saving the money to do it, putting together over $10,000 and paying off all my debts except the car, when I was fired during a company bankruptcy related round of mass firings in 2006.  I went to work quickly with another company making $11,000 less per year and started using my education fund to pay my rent and utilities.  (I went from 42k to 31k and in CT neither of those figures makes an adult fully financially independent.)  Then I got sick and, thanks to a very bad health plan, paid out over $1,000 of my own money just for diagnostics.  

Then I added another $2,000 to that in preparation for school, including a laptop, books, and airfare to London where I earned that degree in one year.  I sold my my car prior to starting school because I could not afford to make payments on it while attending school full time without a job.  I started my degree in September 2007 as the run on UK banks unfolded and the housing crisis became apparent in the states.  I graduated in October 2008 (at age 38) as the financial crisis went full tilt and came home to zero opportunities, even in my old career, which I was willing to re-enter under the circumstances, even if my degree was earned in order to leave that old career.

Now I am  41 and still working the same part time job for the same ten dollars an hour that I got in 2008.  I live in my mother's very small house, sleeping in a 7x5 bedroom.  I recently found out that I am technically defined as homeless but am not counted as such because I am sheltered.  Anyone in this circumstance is said to be the "invisible homeless."  My student loan was just shy of $45,000 when I graduated and, because I haven't been able to afford payments for two and a half years, it is now due at over $58,000.  I cannot qualify for deferments under my loan agreement because some weeks I work over 30 hours and the federal government considers 30 hours full time -- deferments are available to those working part time.  Like most student loan holders, I do not qualify for any kind of debt forgiveness and I know there is nothing available thanks to Rep. Murphy's office researching the case for me.  

As this country has never really addressed ageism in a culturally meaningful way, we middle agers are likely to have the hardest time getting rehired and back to full wages, meaning our futures are more greatly compromised than those 20somethings the news takes great pity on.  Most of us do not have significant savings (I have $5,000 left over from my last loan disbursement that I use periodically to buy groceries for the household or cover an unexpected bill) or investments or any substantial finances to fall back on.  

I am delaying a needed cervical biopsy because I cannot afford to have it done and have not yet heard from the hospital charity if they will cover the expense.  This is almost funny against Jennifer Granholm's recent interviews in which she has cited socialized medicine as one reason US companies take their businesses to other countries.  

Perhaps none of this would be so hard if I had a spouse to share expenses but I am single and child free so I do not qualify for public assistance or even a mention in political rhetoric about the difficulties of the economy.  

So what about me?  What about all those people like me who just wanted to make the second half of our lives better than the first?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I attended the October 15 occupation of Times Square in New York City.  It was a pretty intense scene -- real demands being made, despite what the "real" news media report.
There is much negative criticism and even dismissal of the movement for its pluralist workings and broad range of complaints.  Both these points are things I had been wondering about for some time and having been part of the protest, I now see them as essential to the movement.

The nation has been abused by a bad economic structure for the last fifteen or more years; evidenced by near stagnation of wage growth against the cost of living, rapid bank growth and mergers, loss of health coverage under increased premiums -- all things you knew as they happened.  Then there was deregulation and the spread of the derivatives market, mortgage bundling and selling of risk, predatory lending practices, and so on -- things that came to light only later...

The point is there are multiple causes for the current economic crisis in America which, in turn, affects different people in different ways.  While we may be the same in that we have to struggle with less money, how it plays out in one person's life varies (some people can't keep their houses and rent small apartments, some have mounting debt to not finding good paying work, some people are newly homeless, and so forth).

There are some common themes, though.  The popular media would like you to think it's all as simple and vague as hating the banks but it's not.  What the participants in the Occupy movement hate is the unfair banking practices the big banks engage in, and the way the US government rewarded said banks for bankrupting private individuals but did nothing to help the persons whose livelihoods were destroyed.  That's the anger.

Within that there are real problems, all of which need solutions.  There is a student debt crisis in America, with default on the increase at a rapid pace.  There is a health care crisis in America which maddeningly defends its free market system, allowing only some persons access to care and denying coverage to people at whim.  There is a housing crisis whereby home owners are under water or losing their homes.  There is a jobs crisis -- few are being created and reported unemployment remains at nine per cent.

Given this there can be no single demand to come from the Occupy movement.  It took many mistakes and many bad social mechanisms to make this mess, it can't be hard to understand it would result in many different crises across a population of 300million people.  All of these problems are part of the larger issue at hand -- that there has been allowed a culture to exist that favors profit over the well being of private citizens. Don't think so?  Review the anti-union movement sponsored by various state governments and private companies over the summer, look at the average minimum wage by state, look at the jobs numbers reported for the last quarter, look at teacher lay-offs, look at the increased out-sourcing of jobs over the last two decades.  (I could hand you these stats but if you really want to know maybe you should do some work to find out.  That is a point made in this movement, that you should be informed and involved.)

The Occupy movement may well remain a broad set of complaints under one banner.  If you want to boil it down to one coherent idea, consider this:  That all people should have the right to go to work for full, life sustaining wages which enable them to provide for themselves, pay their bills, and save for the future.  Access to good jobs should be equal and fair wages guaranteed.  The government is in place to protect the people whether from foreign invaders or domestic employers and institutions.  If this really happened there would be no crisis bringing people to the streets.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fuck That

I have an account on Linked In where I belong to a few groups focused on visual art and careers in the arts.  One of the moderators posed a question about free speech and profanity.  There is a whole subset of discussions on that alone but he was wondering with regard to that particular group should comments be deleted for certain vocabulary choices participants make when commenting on the board.  Frankly, I fail to see what makes "bad" words inappropriate in a professional context, especially in the arts when you think about all the forms and expressions of artists we are supposed to be open to. 

Coincidentally, this conversation started almost the same time that the issue came up on the docent blog on which I contribute as a member of the docent staff. I responded on Linked In with this:

"Frankly if one's vocabulary choices are appropriate to the content of what he/she expresses then there is no bad language.

What's offensive is to ignore this basic rule: Say what you mean and mean what you say. You know, capturing the intensity of an emotion or thought might be best summarized with what some people call profanity. But they're just words and at some point you have to say what you mean. And at some point, people choose to be offended by inconsequential things.

It's not merely a defense of the crude on my part. In getting to some of my career goals I will likely work with a very broad spectrum of "the public." Some of those persons will likely be from disenfranchised communities or other challenged circumstances. I should ignore the validity of their experiences and perspectives because they don't speak eloquently? That's ridiculous. How can I ever want to take a proactive role in using art as a social outreach tool if I deny others voice simply for having their own means of using that voice?

What lowers the level of discourse is to dismiss critical content because you think words are bad. Worse, people oft employ the bad words defense as a means to deflect attention away from the content because the content makes them uncomfortable. They would like to avoid this discomfort so they blame others for speaking out of turn as a means to kill the conversation. That undermines real discourse and is a source of real offense.

If we're on this board, participating in this discussion then we work in or around the arts and are concerned with all forms of expression. It's a disservice to enact this kind of censorship for petty reasons when really some of us should be more proactive in questioning what it is that truly makes us uncomfortable."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

No Cause for Celebration

Collaborations is the new exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT.  You guessed it, it's a whole museum full of works by collaborating artists.  But that's not really the point herein.

Among the works on view is All the Holidays At Once by MTAA.  It's an interesting premise; they are mixing up the holidays and the notion of artistic collaboration by asking the town's residents to lend them holiday decorations which they have arranged on the grass behind the building.  Donations include snowmen and Santas, pumpkins, skeletons, giant spiders, eggs, rabbits, and turkeys.  On the surface it's a nice bit of celebrating and lore and good times.  But it goes wrong really quickly.

The problem I have is the plastic.  It's all plastic propped and hanging everywhere.  Plastic!  I don't care what you're celebrating, plastic (and its source, petroleum) causes an enormous amount of damage to the planet's ecosystems.  On that point alone, the piece fails; what is being celebrated by the continued destruction of the planet and its life forms?

Let's take Christmas, the most represented holiday in the piece, and start by asking is it really in keeping with Jesus' teachings to abuse the earth in this manner, with our selfish and harmful use of resources?  By extension wouldn't loving your neighbor include simple things like refraining from poisoning his water?  And plastic is among the most common pollutant in the earth's waterways, just to make the point.  I'll admit, it's a little hypocritical for me to make this complaint as I do wear synthetic clothing and drink from a reusable plastic bottle.  But I try to limit my plastic habits in other ways as much as possible while recognizing it's a material we can't completely be rid of by now.  Still, does no one see the hypocrisy in plastic ornamentation?

All the Holidays at Once also includes nylon flags honoring Martin Luther King Day, Kwanzaa, Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos, Valentine's Day, Easter, Chanukah, and Earth Day.  A nylon flag honoring Earth Day?  My common sense chokes on the irony. 

Exacerbating the natural environment problem inherent in the piece is that the arrangement mimics Spiral Jetty, a work that was debated at the time of its creation as destructive to its environment and continues to raise questions about ongoing effects to the area.  In that regard, at least that's an appropriate reference.

In the figurative sense, the plastic bothers me still further.  As an observer of my own culture, I am concerned with the thing we call plastic values.  Not in the malleable, adaptable sense; I am talking about the synthetic and artificial.  We're caught up in a life that revolves around false notions of beauty, youth, productivity and worth.  Watch tv on any given day and we are driven by the pursuit, not of the new, but of the more.  We must always have the better phone, with its plastic casing and carcinogenic metals because without them we can't use the apps that don't add any value to our lives.

Which is much like celebrating a great deal of the holidays when you think about it.  Christmas is the ugliest, most hate filled, greed infected time of year despite the constant hitting over the head of good will and joy.  Those who do not participate in the celebration, whether for religious or moral objections, are labeled ill-willed, bad tempered, Scrooge and chastised for having different priorities.  Had Jesus been a real guy, I would fathom a guess he would be dismayed by this.  

Dr. King had a dream of all children being equal but we live in a world that still seeks to punish those who aren't like the loudest voices in the front of the line.  You are still lesser if you are black or brown, a woman, poor...  But we need to celebrate all the accomplishments we have made in equality even as we take those hard earned gains away.

New laws that will restrict voting access, women's rights, wage standards all stand before one state or other right now and the rhetoric continues to be America, land of the free.  We are seeing the beginning effects of global climate crisis and the argument is whether businesses should be restricted by environmental regulation -- because if business has to be mindful of the resources it depends on then how will it make as much profit as possible selling us things we don't need?  Thanksgiving is a "real" American holiday but we celebrate myth and ignorance, thinking the Pilgrims were passive friends to the Natives and not actively engaged in isolating and even killing Natives in their native land.  How many of your friends know why Memorial Day and Veterans Day are different?  How do we thank those who served our country?  By taking a day off to go shopping.  Plastic values. 

People decorate their homes and yards with garbage to celebrate holidays they don't understand.  They clutter their spaces to avoid the emotional garbage that clutters their lives.  The emphasis is on the conformity to superficial representations rather than genuine sentiments of thanks, love, or self-reflection.

Maybe All the Holidays at Once is good for exposing this arrogant stupidity and the hypocrisy that follows.  Maybe it's good for showing us the wrong ideas in our traditions but, as a celebration of cultural life forces, it's a sad disgrace.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Computer Art

I am a docent, or soon to be, with a rather reputable museum on the east coast.  I like it so far and hope to be effective once I can lead tours.  Like most museums, this one uses technology to assist the processes of running the joint and administering a variety of programs.  Fair enough; technology is everywhere and to deny it is futile, though none of us is obligated to follow each new technology just because it is available.

We're getting iPads to assist with tours.  I find the idea exceptionally intrusive.  I wonder if there is potential debate among the docents about the usefulness of it but I don't really care all that much if there is.  One imagines for those with limited knowledge in art or art history, or even the art on exhibition, it could help to have quick access to easy information available during the tour.  I imagine even I could benefit from it as I am not so well versed in specific instances and moments in art's chronology. 

But the irony for me is this museum's docents use VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies, an inquiry based model of looking at and thinking about art.  So it's my job to ask "What do you see" and encourage you to make connections with other ideas and issues in society.  We don't do the rote lecture -- or, from my understanding, not often as the mission is more about facilitating conversation and thought than telling you what to think.  The idea being that the "authoritative voice" discourages you from engaging and pursuing your own ideas around the stuff you're looking at.  True enough.

So why am I spending time now looking up the right answers to questions?  Why am I doing the work of connecting the dots for the audience? 

Beyond this, I am firm in my belief that there comes a point when technology interferes with the art experience.  I know the other docents; I can see some of them obsessing over a problem with the iPad and neglecting the point of a tour, becoming determined to make the iPad work in order to find the one piece of requested information. 

There is a lot of tech based art work out there and getting over fear of interacting with tech is good -- it's necessary if any of us want to understand where this tech art comes from.  Just getting over the tech hang-up enough so more of us use the docent blog for conversation and resources would help.  But making ourselves dependent on technology to talk about any and all art is an obstacle to real interaction from where I see it.  Why should the audience trust themselves when I hold the key to all the correct information in my hand?  People believe the information they get from a computer -- they take it as an authoritative truth.  It's a very common human tendency.  So having the iPad at the ready is no different from me spouting a bunch of crap, telling the audience what the art is and I see the potential for this to undermine the museum experience and the VTS process.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I'm not going to argue laws or work place policies.  What I am pondering is the accepted social prejudice in the US toward atheism.  I am an atheist and can be vocal about that at times.  It boils down to this -- I don't need made up stories to justify why I am alive, why my life sucks, why good or bad things happen, why we can't explain everything ever to occur in the whole huge, unknowable universe.  Nor am I so pretentious or self-righteous as to think I deserve an explanation for all those things as if my mere existence obligates that kind of response.  Kind of arrogant to think I am entitled to that kind of stroking.

But here's what I'm pissed about:  If my believing friends say something to the effect that god has a reason, or they can take solace in god's plan... and so on... that's perfectly fine in polite society.  They're just sharing what they  believe and are doing me a favor by enlightening me to their sacred knowledge, even if I choose to ignore it in the end.  But if I vocalize the fact that god is false and belief in anything supernatural is irrational and wrong then I am considered subversive and anti-social.  I'm pretty sure this is what is called a double standard. 

This is the First Amendment to the US Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We have no official religion in the US and I take issue with the very premise that this is a Christian nation, or any kind of god following nation.  For anyone to insist it is is a dismissal of my rights as a citizen and, in fact, a denial of the Constitution itself.  And let me say, where  Christians or other zealots may have rights to share their beliefs with me, even if I don't want to hear them, I have the same rights.

And in terms of my private life, I have the right to talk as I will.  Sure, there are accepted rules within personal relationships regarding the manner in which parties communicate, but I still reject the notion that censoring of one's self or ideas even in that context is unacceptable.  I can accept it if a person says "I'd rather not discuss it."   But that person owes me the same respect.  And it's a practice most believers I know can't seem to grasp.  A double standard they refuse to admit.