Thursday, August 25, 2016

Country Thunder Calgary

I’m pleased to see, on Sunday morning, how the Saturday part of the weekend Country Thunder Calgary music festival got a two-page spread in the Calgary Sun. The photographs were by Mike Drew, the guy who does the excellent ‘drive Alberta farm roads-and-photograph-nature’ columns.

Our festival was like the festival in Arizona. Again the big stage with extended runway flanked by huge TV screens and a giant blow up drink can. Again that pair, the self-described “Indian and White Man,” who did the interstitial talking. This time the two did not ask us to sing the anthem, or share words of appreciation for our servicemen and first responders. I wonder if they just knew, or if someone warned them, that Canadians do not express their patriotism the same way. I saw no one wearing the sort of T-shirts I described in my essay American Country Patriots, archived April 2016, after the festival in Arizona. There are only a few Country Thunders in North America, and the pair spoke of being to them all.

What was the same at both festivals I attended was the love flowing among we rednecks, we trailer-trash, we excited lovers of music. In the V.I.P. section were brown folding chairs. Again we sat right at the stage fence, so my buddy Mathew in his wheelchair could see. I counted three different smiling people saying they would set aside a space next day for Mathew and I. (and two of his relatives) I also counted one person help me put my sweater on, one person help with the zipper to my buddy’s pack as I was reaching to it on the back of his chair, and, as I was digging into the Matt’s pack from standing behind him, two friendly pats on my bum.

The sister-in-law that drove our handi-van home observed with some heat how so many ladies dressed “scandalously,” as in “…cleavage, and you could see their bum.” I assured her, “It was the same in Arizona.” I don’t exactly know the psychology of those ladies, which means I guess I’ll never be a great writer. I remember a U.S. entertainment writer being mystified at how the (nearly) women-only crowd for the opening night of the movie (from the TV series) Sex and the City dressed so revealing, with no men to impress. I guess he won’t write the Great American Novel either.

Our Cowtown daily attendance was sold out at 17,500. The Sun said the bugs for lineups and things were noticeably fixed between Friday and Saturday.

Someday I’ll learn to shout “Whoo-hoo!” just like everybody else. For now, I will say that even a repressed Star Trek fan like me had a good time. As an even more repressed fellow from Austria said, “I’ll be back.”

Sean Crawford


~As I said back in April to a commenter, I was surprised that so few “Americans” (U.S. citizens) clicked on my American Country Patriots. But slowly the hits have added up: Going forward to now, late August, none have had as many cumulative hits, and going back in time, the first piece with more readers was in March, The Madness of Michael Moore, and then nothing greater until January.

~Come to think of it, all I saw were "persons of whiteness," as in "caucasians," just like you would see in a trailer court.  The only "foreigners" I met were a nice young couple from Blackburn Lancashire who used my camera to photograph Mathew and I. 

This could be partly because the Minister for immigration is no longer looking for the classic "farmers in sheepskin coats" but is encouraging new Canadians and refugees to come to the cities, not to the western countryside.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I Knew Abigail

I remember young Abigail Adams, circa 1975: thin before thin was in style, intense and very smart. Now attending community college, like me. No wonder Abigail and I found each other there—I was smart too. Abby had been to university, but then she had troubles. Now here she was, in another time zone. One day she told me she understood vandals, as that morning she had felt like taking a microscope and smashing along the shelves of the chemistry class.

Like Abby, I too had a troubled back trail; I surely wasn’t ready yet for university. But I could learn of life by listening to Abby, experienced beyond her years. And she would talk to me.

Years later, in my stable mid-thirties, I was to take an adult class for serious writers. There I learned that about half of these writers had left home early, just as I had… I wonder where the heck they were during my youth? Lacking such peers, after abruptly leaving home after eleventh grade, I had felt left out. When I was commuting to a college of unthinking frivolous students, many of them happily living at home with happy parents, who could I talk to? Abby, that’s who.

Abigail could say, “You’re on some sort of quest,” and she was just the person to give me answers. She knew about low self-esteem and bad relationships. She too was eager about life. And peace in Vietnam. And equality for all persons. Woman’s liberation was then considered too crazy, too far ahead of our time. But times were a-changing.

In our cafeteria talks Abby explained most theories about women were made by men, by men uninterested in going to the horse’s mouth. “Hey guys, we’re over here.” She once told me over coffee that most art was by men, most nudes were female. But there was no rule about this. I listened hard, as a wholesome member of an innocent society where “everybody knew” women had God-given lower hormone counts, higher morals and little interest in painting nudes.

Because she was finally liberated enough, Abby was posing nude for the college art classes. She once had her mother visit her place: Mama briefly lifted off the bookshelf a book about sexuality. Abby was glad her mother was getting liberated too. But what poor Abby couldn’t do was to be what her mother wanted: married, with a child, “and with a Ph.D. by now.” Abby could only give Mother her love.

In those exciting days, ideas of revolution and counterrevolution trickled down from intellectuals whom Abby would read with narrow eyes. Saigon fell. For the unthinking students around us, long hair was no longer political, merely cosmetic, even as young men were still wearing jockey style bathing suits. (Not speedos) None of my peers would be caught in public wearing the “older generation’s” loose long bathing trunks like frigid seaweed splaying against their legs. Nobody guessed the revolution would one day go backwards. Maybe Abby did.

I was so lucky to know her.

Sean Crawford

Calgary 2016 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Goodby, Anime Sculptures
I am so pleased that this old post is suddenly timely for reprinting....

Some day I will really appreciate abstract sculpture. I will feel the swirling lines, the effect of polished surfaces next to parts left rough, and the tension of blocky parts digging down that want to spring up and away. For now though, in the spirit of crawling before I walk, the only sculptures I buy are anime (Japanese animation) figurines. Are they art? Yes, you may be surprised to find they come with the sculptor's name prominently on the box. 

Sometimes you may choose to buy these figurines pre-ordered from the factory, or else wait and hope to buy from the factory’s extra run. Often, though, with a prototype shown on the internet, “pre-order” is all there is. If, perchance, you had no cash flow this summer because first you finished your mortgage early, then paid a year's worth of property tax and then paid off all your visa and then paid for your powerful yet incredibly light Macbook Air computer then … like me, you will feel sad at the pre-order figurines that you never bought, gone now, gone forever except in memory.

There were three pieces that I appreciated. I had wanted to set them for display on points of a triangle. Let me recall them now to say farewell.

There have been many interpretations of the teenage girl Asuka Langely. In the series Neon Genisis Evangelion she often wears her uniform, her plug suit, to fight mystic ghostly aliens. (Not living humans) This year an artist pictured her away from battle, dancing for joy. She is wearing a monotone blue dress rather than, say, a schoolgirl’s sailor shirt over a dark skirt. This means my eye’s path down is not delayed. But my eye does not rush out along her leg: the leg is not extended with a straight foot like a proper ballerina’s. Instead, her knee is tossed out, her schoolgirl satchel is gaily swinging, dress swirling. Such a jumble of energy surrounds her. And her face! It makes me so happy just to see her. 

Asuka’s girlfriend Rei has often been interpreted wearing her plug suit or a girlish blue dress or even as a gothic waitress. This year the artist must have imagined a prim cylinder within which to sculpt Rei as wearing a woman’s traditional Kimono. Energy is constrained. In contrast to her dancing friend of American heritage, Rei’s narrow kimono allows only short soft steps. It has gorgeous fabric, as part of how traditionally women were meant to be adored and put on a pedestal. The effect is matched by Rei’s usual not-smiling expression.

As any art becomes less abstract and more “real,” as with realistic figurines, the art becomes increasingly viewed in the light of the history of the viewer and what he or she brings to the art. For me, knowing the eventual fates of the girls, I am moved to see them as still unmarred and having a life.

The third figurine for my triangle, balancing the other two poles of joyful and serene, new and traditional, child and woman, is a newly adult woman named Kuniko from the series Shangri-La. I remember her sitting in a short pleated skirt, wearing not high heels but high action boots. She still wears her old schoolgirl sailor shirt, and, with her arms up overhead, she holds a steel futuristic boomerang. Cool! I immediately sense she is not “just another teen in the crowd.” Best of all is her expression, rare in figurines: a huge U-shaped smile. I can relate. I instantly want to know what adventures she has. So I did a google search for boomerang and found out Kuniko is a community leader, fresh out of jail. 

I won’t reveal what the dear girl tries to do: Anime differs from mundane U.S. television. For U.S. TV, which typically has ongoing shows such as police mysteries, you could accidentally expose the plot of only one episode at a time. Fantastic anime is different: The plot lasts for a full season, as the show is intended to terminate after a certain number of weeks. The stories for my two favorite shows, Elfin Lied and Serial Experiments Lain, are told in just thirteen episodes. At the end of the series the hero has won or lost, lived or died: For her it’s all over. These terminal ending make figurines especially dear.

Had I bought my three sculptures I could have brought them to my favorite art gallery, the Stephen Lowe gallery. I would have brought them up to the counter, set them in a triangle, and then my friends the art experts, they who so deeply appreciate “real” art, would have ooh-ed and ah-ed been happy for me. 

My lesson? Don’t be intimidated at the thought of “real” art lovers; buy what you like, and if you really love it… snap it up before it’s only a memory.

Sean Crawford,
October 2010 ... Every year at Otafest I look, without hope, but do not find.
 In summer of 2016, as a pre-order for September of 2016, comes a "re-issue" of the Asuka figurine. Hurray! The makers know what fans want, and what true fans will pay, for this time they are charging what the market (in Japan) will bear—quite a lot. Too much for us sensible North Americans. Yes, but I really want to have it.

So I've ordered Asuka, and I get free tracking of my parcel too, all the way from leaving Gunma prefecture, to Tokyo post office, to cross the ocean, to the port of Vancouver post office, to the transCanada highway, to my town. (Yes, by government post; I can't afford Federal Express) I've ordered through J-List.

Somehow I found the Rei sculpture, a few years back. Hurray! Did you know her name means spirit? (Oooh)

Only one sculpture left: Any Kuniko figurines out there? I will road trip to your house to buy it! She was created by artist Range Murota, who did the covers for Robot magazine.

Footnote: I use J-Box, the Japanese import site.
There must have been a number of people who missed out this summer, because this fall the term **pre-order** is being bracketed with two stars, and a big box has been added to each pre-order figurine page, spelling out what a pre-order is.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Woe is Social Media

A lot of good has been said about social media, such as how it gives people hope of a democratic voice for the masses, hope that every single one of us can have an opinion and be heard. OK. But surely there is some bad to such media, too.

After all, doesn’t every technology, no matter how modern, also have a downside? Like, say, that “new, exciting” educational resource of my youth: television. It was great for bringing education down from boring blackboards to action-filled screens, and for showing us the plight of the poor children in India—but it also turned us into boobs and idiots. We started with such hopes: When I was a boy channel 13, the highest number on the TV dial, was reserved to be the educational channel. Now we have so many channels we need a handheld device—there’s too many numbers to fit around a knob—but we still don’t have a government education channel.

Incidentally, when I was a boy, back when we still had dials, a friend of the family had one of the first remote channel changers: We called it a “(channel) clicker.” It had to go “click” because it operated without batteries… using the principle of a tuning fork.

Today everyone knows there’s a lot of dysfunction in America —yes, I’m thinking of the presidential election primaries—but only this week have I started to think critically about the role of social media in all this, both personal and political.

Needless to say, I realize social media is not the hot kinetic cause of our woe; after all, smarter folks than I have examined the various causes of our election shame. And yet I can’t say the effect of social media is absolute zero, either.

By the way, as for realizing America’s decline, my favorite resource is A Time to Start Thinking by a British observer living here: I was so impressed at first, but then dismayed to realize that it wasn’t even written by a U.S. citizen, but then excited again to think that at least it was on sale here on our continent—even if the average rich Yankee remains in denial. I blogged a book report back in May 2015 archived as America Down the Chute.

Criticizing social media can be done at two levels: the personal, which is fascinating, like spiral chocolate dessert, and the political, which is less so. Like meat and potatoes.

Politics first: As a schoolteacher said in David Gerrold’s Chtorr Wars epic, “the definition of citizenship is a willingness to be uncomfortable.” Or as William Blake put it in his poem Jerusalem, “I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…” Blake seems to prioritize the inner fight, (being uncomfortable) over action (like swinging a sword or a pen) By the way, the song version of the poem is beautiful, here is a link.

Some fellow blogged that he thought the reason U.S. citizens are in a bad way, is…in my own words: Because we can’t handle the discomfort of mentally trying on someone else’s shoes, or sitting in stillness with strange ideas. Instead we demonize, without compromise. And we do this by “communicating” in our social media, where it’s hard to do nuance, hard to do empathy; easy to do outbursts and outrage. Easy to post “crazy link-bait” to get attention.

As the experts have noticed, all across America, there’s this net of social media. What can a person do? Easy: stick to normal media. The slow, thoughtful kind. Which has personal benefits.

Those benefits had me fascinated this week in an essay by Pavlina—I have his blog bookmarked. He posted about going a year without sending or receiving social media. (Link) Pavlina stopped cold turkey: Suddenly he wasn’t taking so many photographs, merely a few photos he liked—not what others would like to see. He came to realize that he no longer had to train his mind to be thinking daily about what he could post, but could relax, and think about what he pleased. And no more consuming empty calories of social media. No more, as he put it, “empty treadmill.” His life was his.

Another blogger I’ve bookmarked is Derek Siver. In his post, Disconnect, (link) he writes that getting off media helped his art. He says, “Silence is a great canvas for your thoughts.”

I suspect sound bite comments and tweets are like what you see in a yellow striped Cliff’s (Cole’s) Notes: Not enough to “free your mind.” So then “the rest” won’t follow. (k.d. Lang)

Here’s my conclusion of the week: Not only is television and the world wide web a mixed blessing, but so is social media… contributing to so many Americans believing in election craziness.

Sean Crawford
Calgary, 2016

~Sorry, I didn’t link to Charlotte Church’s version of Jerusalem on Youtube because I don’t like how on the tube she sings more “operatic” than on her CD. But OK, for Charlotte fans, here she sings I Vow to Thee My Country. I suppose the beaches shown are in Wales, a land known for fine beaches, such as the beach in The Prisoner.

 A Welsh farm boy I knew in Canada told me he sang I Vow as his school song, and when he saw my CD cover of Charlotte he could tell she was Welsh. On BBC’s Torchwood the agents, based in Cardiff, walk past a Charlotte Church lookalike contest.

~My favorite blog/essay site by Scott Berkun has a post this week,  Staying Sane in an Insane World. He has commenters who link, and his piece includes links to five essays by experts.

Update: Here's a guy who really doesn't like his social media.

Lengthy Sidebar: If I reference two successful bloggers, then it’s not to downplay my own thoughts, not like how a modest man may make up a nice quote and then attribute it to the wisdom of the ancient Chinese or aboriginal elders. No, it’s because I don’t directly know enough—I don’t have social media, just as I don’t have the money for cable TV, rabbit ears or even tinfoil on my TV set.

As for that “some fellow blogged…” well, I have no intention of referencing him. Even though he’s a technology geek. “But wait!” someone cries. “Aren’t bloggers a bunch of idealistic helpful folks, sharing their knowledge that “wants to be free”? No. Not every computer guy is idealistic. How about those California hackers who set up the Great Firewall of China? By setting the Chinese up for Nineteen Eighty-four, they have surely added decades, generations, to the evil existence of communism. For money. I wonder whether or not those hackers are still welcome at Silicon Valley nerd-millionaire parties.

As for that “fellow” he reminds me of a sad prison story, a story that I suppose happens every year:

A young criminal, with the idealism of youth, gets sent to the penitentiary. He feels lost. How fortunate that a strong friendly older convict keeps being so helpful, keeps bringing little snacks and things to the young man, with a cheery glint in his eye. Then—shock!—the old con’s face contorts into an angry Mr. Hyde: He wrestles the young man down. “You owe me!” And if another con tries to stop the forced sexual “favor”? “He owes me!” Needless to say, the young man had not been told of the secret price of all the snacks. Not fair.

Yes, I know: If criminals were capable of being fair, then they would be capable of being among us in society, and they would be able to build a fair and just society behind their prison walls. Like we would as air force P.O.W.s in Germany.

I don’t mind when, say, the New York Times, in a polite impersonal manner, inflicts the tiny shock of saying, “You have used up your ten free articles for this month.” The old “read our newspaper free on the web” model has not proved sustainable. I always knew it couldn’t last.

But when “that fellow,” with his “free” blog sneakily changes into an ugly Mr. Hyde— with a sudden shocking disrespect! ...just for money, then I have nothing but contempt. Looking back, I guess the way he inflicts swear words on the public could have tipped me off as to his inner character. Sure, we all want money, but there is polite, and then there’s disgusting.