Monday, March 08, 2010

A Conversation on Lustful Living Under the Influence of Maestros

Venice, Ferrara, Mantua, Milan, RomeImage via Wikipedia

"What's wrong with feeling sexy in a museum?"

- Recent online chat.

My father's brother was an artist, a painter and printmaker.

He died years before I was born, before my parents married, cancer snuffing out his future as a creator of beautiful things before he'd reached a quarter of a century on this planet.

An avid reader, obsessed with not only physical art but that of the written word, he left behind scores of paintings and sketches, a library of some of the world's finest literature.

A gift, I assume, for my father and, by proxy, my father's children - a generational legacy. Guides to the world's finest museums, full of reprints and photographs, art criticisms and histories, poetry collections and fiction in four languages, sacred texts from the world's great religions.

And trust me when I say I took full advantage of the artist uncle's last gift in my childhood.

* * * *

In a way, though I never met my uncle, he probably had just as much influence over my development in death as he would have in life. His notebooks were conversations, his paintings burst ideas upon my brain, his library an education unto itself.

For example, Titian, the High Renaissance maestro, was already a favorite by the time I reached puberty. I first developed an appreciation for the maestro studying my uncle's books on the art of the era. Of course, after reaching puberty, my appreciation for Titian's nude work grew even more - the Venus of Urbino was probably the first woman to seduce me, my first ever object of pure raw lust, years before I lost my virginity.

The second seductress? A painting by Raphael's lustful baker, la Fornarina.

I could list them all, but, well, that would take too long. But I will admit that I do not consider it bragging to admit that for all of my hundreds (yes, hundreds) of sexual experiences in life, I've never been able to shake the feeling that those ancient Europeans instilled in me sense enough to understand that a woman's body is the finest of canvas, that it is not in some maestro's strokes of a brush that art is revealed but in the canvas stroking the brush, creating the artist.

But sexual attraction is but one manifestation of an appreciation, a love, of art. So, too, was I in love with the great Post-Impressionists: Paul Gauguin, with his primitivist depictions of beautiful Tahitians and ancient themes. Henri Matisse, Van Gogh.

It was my uncle, through his enormous collection of reprints of some of the most daring naked women in history, that taught me more about the intertwining of beauty, life, sex, and art than any formal education could ever impart.

* * * *

Needless to say, I was one strange kid.

Hell, I'm one fucking strange-ass adult, for that matter.

But I know a thing or two about beauty.

I learned it through a lust for beautiful things, for fine and performing arts, for poetry and prose, essays, and pure, unadulterated, passionate thought.

And I have an uncle I never knew, who died in a sterile hospital room with cancer-filled body, to thank for that.

- # # # -

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Friday, February 12, 2010

On Sustainability, Need-Based Lifestyles, and the Naturally Green Choices of a Cheap Fucking Bastard

The astronomical growth in the wealth and cultural influence of multinational corporations over the last fifteen years can arguably be traced back to a single, seemingly innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s: that successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products.

- NAOMI KLEIN, from No Logo
(2000, Full e-Text Here)
OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- I'm not what anybody in their right mind would consider to be a man driven by consumerism.

In fact, I'm quite the anti-consumer, especially when my infrequent forays into luxury spending are weighed against the downright gluttonous behavior of a good portion of my countrymen at the hog trough of reckless capitalism.

A few DVDs, books, the occasional magazine or candy bar.

Yup. That's about it.

Not that I'm bragging or talking shit - that's not my point. I've always been like this. I've never really seen the point in spending money on things - often junk - that contribute nothing to my well-being or to that of my neighbors.

I don't buy clothes for anything as silly and bourgeoisie as style; I consume my basic wardrobe of jeans and tee-shirts as thriftily (often second-hand or in the form of gifts) as possible, based on need, digest them slowly over years until the fabric's threadbare and the holes in the pockets can no longer be restitched.

That's right. I said restitched. I'm lousy with a needle and thread, but I know at least how to sew on a button of fix a tear. I see no sense in wasting that which I have so carefully digested.

Hell, my Baltimore Orioles baseball cap - the "lucky" one (not for the Os, obviously) my parents bought me at a game at the old Memorial Stadium - is roughly the same age as my last girlfriend. And, as ratty as the damned thing is, I'll probably keep wearing it until it rots into oblivion, or I do.

I'm a notoriously cheap fucking bastard. Emphasis on the fucking bastard.

And on top of that, I'm not to big a fan of wasting natural resources simply because some advertising agency generated market trend tells me I won't fit in if I don't conform.

My anti-consumerist behavior doesn't stop with my wardrobe, either. Roughly 90 percent of all of my apartment's furnishings were either found on the street, inherited from somebody, of acquired at yard sales. The rest? Bought on clearance or off the scratch-and-dent racks.

I own no video games or consoles. I don't have cable. My microwave was stolen from the curb and the dresser in my bedroom used to belong to a Super Bowl quarterback.

Hell, I'm writing these very words you're reading right now on an Ubuntu machine, using open-source software.

My electric bill - with electric heat in a region that experiences single-digit temperatures at night occasionally - hasn't topped 80 bucks in more than two years. Thermostat's set at 53 degrees in the winter - if you're cold, grab yourself one of the half-dozen second-hand sweaters that don't fit me anymore that I keep on hand for guests.

And I don't use air conditioning. Period.

Cheap. Fucking. Bastard. I say it loud, say it proud.

* * * *


For one thing, well, it's better for the environment, better for the planet. It fucks rampant unchecked corporate greed in the ass with a greener chainsaw and keeps extra cash in my pocket.

And it's become a comfortably sustainable lifestyle.

Yes, not the media buzzword version of sustainability, not the White House teleprompter versions touted in speeches in Copenhagen or Kyoto.

We're talking My Ecological Footprint is roughly one-third that of other 30+ single males living in North America sustainable lifestyle.

Sustainability requires one to be just about as conservative as possible in resource consumption, especially of that which the consumer has few controls over the means of production, to be minimalist and marketing-resistant, consciously frugal in both purchase and usage, to make compromise not over what one needs but over what one does not.

Why give more money to the same multinational corporations that already own our politician and media outlets, defecate in the very global market capitalist buffet they feed upon, and, hell, already take my money without my consent through government bailouts and state contracts?

Sure, they naturally get some of my paycheck. I have to, after all, buy foodstuff and toiletries somewhere, still have to have a provider of laundry detergent and of consumable goods. And in rural parts of the US, like here in Oxford Fucking Ohio, some of my consumables are either purchased in the local-employing Big Box Stores or small locally-owned businesses, since it'd be, well, a waste of about a half-tank of gas to shop in the nearby cities.

But, seriously, who pays full price for such things? Wait for the sales. If such businesses are to get chunks of my paycheck, why not simply wait until I can rob them blind by binding my time for clearance markdowns?

And like I said, I'm in no way bragging. It's just how I live my life, and its not a perfect model.

I forget to recycle. Often. I drive a late-model pickup like a Los Angeleno, hitting the road for any trip longer than to the mailbox, despite being a avid hiker, out of sheer laziness. I forget to wash out old plastic containers for reuse, forget that only a hypochondriac needs plastic produce bags for a few avocados or oranges.

It's a work in progress.

But at least I'm trying.

* * * *

Which is more than I can say for a lot of people, probably the majority of that undefined bulbous mass called the Average US Consumer.

You know. That mass that supposedly holds the fate of the global economy in its "consumer confidence" indexes and other measurements of the perceived movement of wealth?

Take a trip to any large in door shopping mall, into any major retailer, even into your neighborhood supermarket. Look around you. Look in every shopper's cart, at stuff you know they're buying that they don't need to actually improve their lives.

Listen to the squeals of fat kids begging for name-brand candy and proprietary-code video games, the sounds of obsessive sports fans drooling over hi-def televisions they'll only enjoy a handful of Sundays out of the year. Watch men and women stop by clothing racks adorned by celebrity endorsements yet still made for pennies in places like Bangladesh or, worse, in conflict areas.

Or maybe, if you're lucky, you'll catch a middle-aged woman adorned in the bling of African blood diamonds and gold, lugging a rat terrier in a purse, as she shops for the latest cosmetic product tested, probably, on animals just like her precious pet.

These shopping habits? All lifestyle choices.

You will see consumption of things, many glorious gluttonous things, that are not so much bought for need but for image, to maintain the fallacy of "Free" marketplaces that dictates freedom in terms of who can acquire the most junk.

And what you'll see is in no way sustainable. Eventually, natural limits are reached beyond the ability of one to purchase them, scarcity leads to higher prices, higher prices leads to panicky conservation and state intervention. So long as consumption of resources is tied to image or brand instead of actual human need, sustainability is but a wet dream in a capitalist society.

Yes, I'm really just a cheap fucking bastard.

And the scary thing?

No matter how bad the economy gets, how much the numbers are doctored and the shady accounting sold to reflect recovery in terms of bullshit measurements like "consumer confidence," my lifestyle will rarely be affected.

Me and, well, the Amish.

Some things in life are bigger than one's lifestyle. Sometimes, there's a conscience behind such choices.

- # # # -

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

You Really Are What You Eat, "Intimidating" Kids Through Auto-Tuneless Hip-Hop, and Hating on Motherfucking Snow...

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- I'm a creature of habit, have my daily routines, my rituals.

I usually, for instance, get up at just before five in the morning. Unless I get to bed after 11 p.m., which like clockwork leads me to sleep in until about seven in the morning. I never skip breakfast, enjoy a nice, hot brush-and-soap shave every three days, bathe every day. And I cannot function without that first cup of stevia-laced black coffee and a cigarette - though, in late 2009, I did finally give up caffeine after nine in the morning.

But perhaps the best example of my habitual nature?

My diet.

I now consume the same things for breakfast for months, sometimes years, at a time - cage-free eggs and turkey bacon, egg white omelets, oatmeal, or, sometimes, just fresh fruit and yogurt. For the rest of the day, most meals are simple and routine, kept mainly to what my body needs to sustain itself - lots of beans, baked yams, fresh greens, whole grains, and, yes, probably four to five times the amount of soy protein than your average American eats in a week.

When I was in my early 20s, I was, in all honesty, a fat fucking slob. At my peak weight, a year or so after going cold turkey from my teenage hard drug habits, I weighed 285 pounds. A decade later I weigh two-thirds of that.

I never went on a diet. I just changed what I liked to eat. And over time, the weight fell off.

And not a month goes by without running into or hearing from somebody who remembers how big I used to be and commenting about the weight loss. Not as bad as it was a few years ago, but, yeah...

It gets annoying.

Here's the funny thing: most days, in terms of bulk, I suck down at least twice the bulk weight of what I did when I was younger. For dinner tonight I sucked down two bowls of salad, a rather large baked sweet potato, and a pint of Greek-strained yogurt.

Over the course of a mere five years, I lost an average of about an inch and a half off my waistline per year. As I was introduced to new ways of looking at the world - spiritually as well as intellectually - my tastes changed. If soda made me feel sluggish, for example, why should I consume it? If eating at a McDonalds or Wendys gave me the shits and sent me running to the john fifteen minutes after eating at a corporate enterprise model I feel exploits of the poor, why eat in such places?

As my tastes changed, my daily habits changed.

I don't drink soft drinks or anything carbonated beyond beer, avoid high fructose corn syrup like a hypochondriac avoids the leper colony, and while I do eat meat, it's almost always poultry.

I do occasionally partake of pork and wild game, but I haven't eaten beef in a decade. Hell, I don't think I've even been in a hamburger-filled fast food joint in a decade, but I do eat out at times. Those meals, too, are habitual - there are people in this town who have a better idea what I'll order for lunch next week than I do.

And yes, I smoke a pack a day. And I do have a taste for Irish whiskey, and bourbon usually leaves me in a state where I'll choke-slam an overgrown fratboy seven years my junior into the asphalt for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Hey, everybody needs a few unhealthy vices.

Ya know, writing this, I suddenly realize why I've slept with so many vegetarians and women recovering from eating disorders - my refrigerator usually looks like a hippie culinary commune exploded in there...

* * * *

"You DO intimidate people, dude."

"Chica, that's horseshit. I'm just another old guy in this town..."

In Oxford Fucking Ohio, the median age of all residents, is 21.

You're only young by local standards if you're not old enough to legally drink. Anything past 30? You might as well wear your Dr. Scholls and Snuggie of a muu-muu to the drug store, because the "Middle-Aged" in this town look at you like you're there for hemorrhoid cream and Viagra.

"What's so intimidating? I was listening to music, window was rolled down, and -"

"That... rap music you listen to? The gangsta rap...? Um, yeah. You live in Oxford, not fucking Compton."

"Well, yeah. And not 'gangsta,' just whatever was on the iPod. Heavy beat shit. MC Eiht, CunninLynguists, Beatnuts, Stoupe, some Ramallah Underground I think... Anyway, these chicks at the light next to me in a BIG hunking Daddy's Little Princess SUV LOCKED their doors when I looked their way -- "

Silence on the other end of the line.

And then a sigh.

"Jason, dear..."


"Where do you live?"


"And do [Local U] students listen to that stuff? Or dress all, like, white guy Black Panther? Or NOT smile?"


"Yeah, dude. You're in the Bubble. Entitled kids probably, yeah, thought you're a Townie rapist ready to carjack Daddy's old Hummer or whatever."

"So listening to rap makes me intimidating?... Wait... Did you just say Townie paist carjacker...? Because I listen to - "

"No... but the whole package? I dunno... if I didn't know you, I'd be fucking scared of you... Especially with that beard..."

"What's wrong with the beard? Grew it out for Manuary."

"Nothing... you just look... you know... like a scary Townie."

Sometimes, it's good to chat with a female alum - one of the chill ones - who understands the what actually goes through the minds of Local U. students better than I do.

This is clearly one of those times. I did not grow up like the vast majority of those who squat in this lovely town for four years out of their lives, in search of a degree.

But, well, at least I still have some street cred.

* * * *

I'm not a snow kinda guy.

I don't fucking ski, I outgrew making snowmen when my balls dropped, and more often than not, when it snows, I'll be driving through it.

It's not ALL snow. Nothing personal or discriminatory against the whole specie of water. I love Colorado snowstorms - awesome powdery stuff that, in all honesty, I could spend days hiking, driving, or camping in. Or even the snowfall around Chicago.

No, I reserve my prejudices solely for the slushy, half-sleet, half-powder East Coast snows like the ones we get here in southern Ohio.

And this winter, we've gotten a lot of the white shit dumped on us this winter.

Does wonders for my arthritis, my bad knee, and the ol' bad hip. Makes me feel as if I'm 31 going on 90.

Call me cranky, but does anybody know any libraries in Arizona or New Mexico that may be hiring?

- # # # -
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Friday, January 15, 2010

BALLADS OF LIFE, DEATH, & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN: A Month-Long Journey Along the Mortal Coil's Wide Paths

When I first heard the news that my grandmother was dead, the world stopped spinning and my legs gave out beneath me. Within a nanosecond, from what I remember, I was on the ground. Or I fell into the kitchen table, slid down into a chair.

In all honesty I'm not sure what happened after I heard my sister's voice.

I'd immediately assumed the worst; my sister rarely calls and I rarely call her. If she's calling me, I thought, at 8:30 at night, Eastern, a week and a half before Christmas, then someone had died.

Someone important and loved by both of us.

In her sobbing, I could only make out the important part of her call. It's all I remember, really.

"Grandma was killed in a car accident this morning and -- "

I don't remember what came after the and. The shock of it all stopped my brain from processing the rest.

My grandmother pretty much raised me. After my grandfather died, I'd moved in to her house on the farm to keep her company. I slept on her bedroom floor - despite having a bedroom of my own - from age nine until I entered seventh grade.

Every morning before school, the whole family would gather at her place. We'd all have coffee and toast, then I'd kiss her and her toy poodle goodbye, and we'd head off to start the day.

My grandmother was the only woman I can honestly say I've ever loved and trusted completely, my conscience, my keeper of secrets, my most trusted advisor.

And then, of course, there were her biscuits and gravy, her pancakes, the fondness for fried okra and bass fishing alone...

* * * *

Two days later, after spending the night in Cincinnati's train station (soothing, really, because most of the building is now home to the Queen City's best museums) and an 11-hour trip on Amtrak's Cardinal line into Charlottesville, I arrived back in the ol' Home State.

The train passed through West Virginia, 70 miles north of the town where she was born - tiny Newhall, a community of less than 700 people. One of more than a half-dozen children born or adopted by my great-grandparents in McDowell County, who were themselves from large Coal Country litters of children.

I imagined the hundreds, possibly thousands, of distant relatives roaming the Appalachians all around me as I passed through the state, staring at the imposing mountaintops and pristine whitewater stretches as the train rolled down the line.

I thought about her kinfolk, her brother she lost to the mines, the one she rarely would discuss, the stories of her parents and grandparents, her father's innovative "indoor plumbing" system (he built his house atop a spring, yet until the 1960s they still used an outhouse), and the stories her brother once told me that made her blush...

I was the last person in my family to speak to my grandmother alive, for two hours on the phone, a few days before her death. The last thing we talked about was her father and the Blair Mountain War - the fight of the miners to bring justice and fair wages to Appalachia, against company, state, and even federal forces.

And that, yes, is a huge burden.

I sat in silence, staring out at West Virginia for hours, thinking about that conversation.

And I found comfort in my thoughts.

* * * *

The next week sped along a blur of emotion, funeral arrangements, and estate issues. Grief took second seat to the reality of having to dispose of human remains, to settle insurance issues, to prepare family heirlooms for shipping and furniture for eventual auction.

My father and I each delivered eulogies. As with my grandfather's funeral, I did not shed a tear; in fact, I even cracked a few jokes. I'm sure some folks thought it was inappropriate; most, however, did not.

As a child with my Grandpa's death, I was honoring a grandparent's last request - be strong, don't cry, don't grieve in public, as it makes others cry. That was, well, a wrong-minded approach - not grieving simply masks the same reality as shudder-filled sobbing. But as an adult, I've managed through much meditation to shake off many of the Western traditions associated with the often selfish emotions tied to death.

For some reason, I feel comfortable enough with human mortality to simply stand in front of a church full of mourners, to remind folks that we all die, and that we remain in this world forever so long as those left tell their tale.

* * * *

From Virginia, a five-day trek across the US, to California, on a road trip. My dad, brother-in-law, and I left Christmas Eve morning, spent Christmas Eve at my place here in Oxford, Christmas Dinner a truck stop meal in western Missouri.

As strange as it was, it's actually one of the most adventurous, exciting holidays I've experienced since childhood. The only gift granted was the hum of wheels on the open highway.

And that, yes, I view as a blessing in disguise, a reminder at how big this country is, how full of life and diverse in terrain North America is, from sea to shining sea.

* * * *

Days in California passed too quick. After a little more than a week, I returned to Ohio, to an empty apartment filled with boxes of childhood toys, trinkets from my childhood, and a large portion of the family library (containing the collected literature of five generations).

The new year, already upon us. A return to work, to life, to the concerns of the living. As December marks the death of every year, so too does the following January mark the birth of a new one.

C'est la vie.

"Because of its tremendous solemnity," the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote long ago, published in one of those works, "Death is the light in which great passions, both good and bad, become transparent, no longer limited by outward appearances."

“It is not death that a man should fear," Marcus Aurelius reported wrote again, in another one of those volumes, "But he should fear never beginning to live.”

After cleaning out the fridge, running to the store to reload on vittles, and unpacking my well-traveled bags, I sat down and closed my eyes.

A chance, yes, to catch my own breath, to rest in solitary peace for a moment.

- # # # -

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"WTF? Where Are You...?!?"
On Hiatus Through the New Year

Due to the death of a close family member and a series of recent tragedies, mishaps, and other less-fun things around Oxford, The Zenformation Professional is on a [much needed] hiatus from December 10 - January 15.

I'll be back with something. Seriously.

I mean, when do I ever crank out something this short when it's NOT serious?

- Jason