Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Front Porch Art Show

I spent last weekend with some girlfriends of mine in Norfolk, Virginia.  Now this is a cool town.  We watched the Admirals win a hockey game (tickets only $20!), ate fantastic tapas at Bodega on Granby Street ("Little Plates, Big Drinks!") and seafood at AW Shucks, and went to an art "show" in the Ghent district near the Virginia Zoo.  This "show" is one of the Best Ideas Ever.

For you, my fellow artists and crafters out there, think about this scenario:  you don't have to pay an entrance fee, pack up, drive, set up your booth, display your wares, and hope to your favorite deity that someone buys something.  You are selling on your front porch.  The entire neighborhood - at least ten blocks - is selling art and crafts on their front porches.  Now, I'm not so naive as to believe that this would work everywhere. My front porch might as well be on Europa.  But this show was just so...nice.

There were people walking around with their dogs and their kids and their friends, looking at (and buying!) art, and the artists appeared, overall, to be relaxed and happy with their front porch experiences.  Most were having a glass or two and offering one to whomever happened by.  My good friend Kelly gifted me with this print by artist Jennifer C Hilliard:
Such an amazing talent.  I have linked her work to this blog.  Check it out!

I'll close by paraphrasing a recent Facebook post by my friend Jennifer Thielen:  If you really want to occupy Wall Street, buy from your local merchants, artists, artisans, and farmers.  As romantic as the idea of the starving artist is, well, ya know, tapas at Bodega are really nice, too.  : )

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Fall in love and have lots of sex"

This was Sir Salman Rushdie's advice for the freshman who had the nerve to get up during question and answer after Sir Rushdie's lecture Wednesday night and ask, "Um...I've been, like, sitting there, listening, and trying to come up with a question to ask you, and, um, like, I would be honored if you could give me some advice for my next four years and for, like, life."  After a (for me, anticipatory) moment, Sir Rushdie smiled and graciously responded, "Fall in love and have lots of sex." 

Rusdhie's lecture was nothing short of phenomenal.  Its title was "Public Events, Private Lives:  Literature and Politics in the Modern World."  He began by briefly examining America's obsession with "trivia" as opposed to the "news."  His humor in this examination; asking what Kim Kardashian actually does for a living, mentioning that Paris Hilton's 15 minutes, although over, greatly increased the name brand of her family's second-rate hotel business; set the tone for the evening.  Rushdie had the audience listening and laughing while examining very serious issues revolving around writers and their work in today's world. 

Rushdie raised the question of whether or not it is a writer's responsibility to address politics in his/her work.  He prefaced his argument with the statement that he would no sooner tell a writer that he/she should always include politics than Rushdie would tell the writer that he/she should never include politics.  However, he went on to point out that, in this information age, it is almost impossible to write a character who is not, in some way, directly affected by politics.  One of his examples was that Jane Austen was writing during the Napoleonic Wars, but she never mentions war at all.  Rushdie argues that the war did not affect her characters.  "One's character determined one's fate."  Rushdie argues that, today, one's fate is no longer determined by one's character.  For example, outside forces determine whether or not you will keep your job, regardless of how strong your work ethic is.  Therefore, modern writers almost cannot avoid writing "politically." 

He said it a lot better than I am relaying it here.  But the end result of Rushdie's lecture was, basically, telling writers, and everyone really, to speak up and speak out. 

I encourage you to read Rushdie if you haven't already.  When I read his novel The Moor's Last Sigh eleven years ago (!), it changed my life, literally.  Rushdie writes about being hybrid, or his word from his lecture "fragmented," in one's identity.  When we limit our definition of ourselves to "one thing," we narrow our vision and limit our capabilities.  Rushdie grew up in India, a society of caste and strict religious definitions, and his characters rebel against the small boxes their societies put them in.  In many cases, the characters are not successful in their rebellions.

Are we free, in today's America, to be who we are?  Every part of who we are?  Or are we forced to decide?  Do "identity politics" limit the scope of what we can do and how we are perceived?  Even worse, do identity politics limit how we perceive ourselves?  This concept of being plural in a society that wants me easily labeled and filed is something I have struggled with since I can remember. 

So, today, I am writing this blog not only to laud Sir Rushdie's lecture here at ECU, but also to speak out.  I am tired of boxes and limits and pigeonholes. As Rushdie said (quoting Saul Bellow), "For God's sake, open the universe a little more!"