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tumblr_nmcpwgTSiR1qzk2apo1_500WE’RE HITTING A RHYTHM these swampy, swamped summer weeks.

Sarah is aggressively organizing neighbors against the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which lobbied to tear down the perfectly functional public housing project in our backyard (one of the country’s oldest) and sell it to private developers. Her alliance of tenants and homeowners is winning for the moment. Though now MPHA is like, “Okay, YOU find a solution for long-term maintenance” and none of us know what that looks like. Sarah is two-for-two in preventing local government from demolishing community assets (glad she’s on my team). Meanwhile, I’m flogging grain-free bread, debt-free business financing and stereotype-free teacher training. It’s the kind of variety and volume I thrive on (leaving me too busy to wonder what the hell it all means). I’m dotting i’s and crossing t’s right up ’til 5pm today, when we drop everything and head for Iceland, Holland and Germany for 21 days.

Having signed my own Will this week, I feel ready for anything.

WATCHING

Love & Mercy (a story of two lovable, troubled Brian Wilsons)

Page One: Inside the New York Times (featuring David Carr, “that most human of humans”)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (come for the music, stay for her dancing)

Dinkytown Uprising (Not yet released, but Lucas got a copy from the filmmaker — about the 1969 local protest movement to prevent a corporate burger chain from opening on 4th Street. It was shot mostly by the documentary filmmaker himself, now in his 90s; we enjoyed it at double speed, Chipmunks-style.)

Mad Max: Fury Road (At Jenney’s urging, I caught this in a suburban theater in a recliner with a cocktail; the best-most-boneheaded thing I never knew I needed)

READING

Ta-Nehisi Coates — The Case for Reparations (Atlantic)

Paul Ford — What Is Code? (Bloomberg News)

LISTENING

The Raincoats — No One’s Little Girl

Beach Boys – I’m Waiting for the Day

Pavement – Give It A Day

Camper Van Beethoven — Jack Ruby

Dusty Springfield – Warten and Hoffen

Wir sehen uns im nächsten Monat!

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Drawing8_resaved
I READ THAT CONTRADICTION AND MENTAL DISSONANCE are the price of our ridiculous modern lives. It’s undeniable in my case. The son of an artist and an engineer, I’m liberal but obedient, cheerfully fatalistic, a staunch anti-consumer who makes his living on corporate largesse. There’s not much I do without some psychic friction. I know I’m not alone.

So I cherish the unconflicted moments. I found my respite long ago in the instinctual act of drawing—blindly, with no grand ambition or promise of reward. When I draw, counter-arguments grow silent. For a few minutes or hours, I know I’m doing the right thing.

That’s what drives the MakeSh!t experiment, now in its third year: low-stakes longing for uncontrolled creativity. We finally found a way to bottle it for mass consumption. To my astonishment, people showed up.

Public Acts of Drawing, first projected on a dark mill ruin in the summer of 2012, made its primetime debut this month on TPT’s TV Takeover, and again during a terrifying July storm. Hundreds of intrepid revelers (The Mayor, piano prodigies, drunks, tykes up way past their bedtime) huddled under our Fleet Farm party tarp, braving lightning and sheets of rain to scribble with us for hours. At 3:30am when the power went out, they were still washing up.

The project is also a thicket of contradictions: Solitary yet social, free-wheeling yet constrained (by media and elbow room), ugly until it’s beautiful. One component of the event—broadcasting on a skyscraper in real time with a Hollywood-grade projector—was shut down on account of weather. With 10 inches of visibility, no love was lost.

The best measure of the project isn’t the final artwork, which I love, but Aaron’s time-lapse vids. Watch us fill in everything, almost without thinking. Hard to say why exactly. Maybe because we have hands.

Another utterly pointless job well done. Thanks, fellas.

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GOATSIS IT TOO EARLY TO LIVE IN THE PAST? When do new experiences start taking a back seat to commemorations? For me that point might be age 38. Around here nostalgia rules especially in years that end in “3.”

Not that this year’s new and notable column isn’t ample: MakeSh!t Mini Golf, Johanna learning to ride bike (over her strenuous objections), the departure of Grandpa Chuck and arrival of his namesake Charley, professional zigs, personal zags—death, birth and rebirth basically, with experiential inventory left to fill.

17But it’s all processed in light of history, each little milestone an excuse to look back. 10 years ago Sarah and I got married, an event we still talk about like it just happened and that we believe, secretly, earned us the All-Time-Fun-Party award (the marriage has been nice too). Is this our Linoleum Anniversary? Naugahyde? 

This summer I let my 20th high school reunion pass without fanfare (just peeking at the event on Facebook aged me a little). But Sarah’s 40th birthday got its due, sans black balloons or anything to do with a hill. We threw a party in the yard with bahn mi, this gin we like (almost too much), records, and a BYO-home movie screening.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 7.27.32 PMPeople brought the silly, shaky-handed footage we hoped for, plus standouts like Craig’s “Airbags for Men.” It was the world premier of Sarah’s “walking” vids, a series she’s shot over many years but that mesh surprisingly well. The locales are diverse but the subject is always her feet.

Also featured: a tribute vid I made to a YouTube I was fleetingly obsessed with in 2009: back-to-back intro sequences from Faerie Tale Theatre, a program hosted by Shelley Duvall from 1982-87. Having missed my window for meme relevance, I never posted it. But the paean played well to our friendly crowd.

 Here’s the original:

And the tribute:

My birthday gift to Sarah, in part, is to nudge her toward her true calling. I scoped her out a new startup that I’m calling LMDTFY. She already has a steady practice of non-paying customers, that being pretty much everyone she meets. 

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Any direction can be forward.

WE TRIED RESURRECTING some clattertrap projectors that haven’t been fired up in years and—with patience and careful tending—they roll. Last night we screened a triple-stack of 16-millimeter films from the archive (“Multiple Tube Bender,” “Springtime,” “Eureka Graduation,” “Canoeing Manitoba,” and others cycled in). Featuring Lucas Alm on bass. Playing both vids at once is a surprisingly good re-creation.

I’d love to emulate an installation at the Tate Modern, called simply “Film” (reviewed with good images here, though this New Yorker profile of the artist, Tacita Dean, was what hooked me). Maybe in a park or back alley this summer? We have operational gear. Now to find more footage, which is too rare to stumble upon anymore, alas.

SAN JUAN-BOUND IN 6 HOURS. BAM! We even get the satisfaction of leaving in a snowstorm. I barely jammed the cars into our ice-choked alley spot; we will avoid the season’s 8th snow emergency but may be clipped by a garbage truck. Jo’s down in Des Moines for a week with her grandma, including tours of a sticker factory and the A.E. Dairy. She probably thinks she got the better vacation.

Sarah’s completing her epic packing routine. I’m stress-testing my laptop bag with art supplies, SPF 110, and my backlog of half-read books.

From last Thursday, a linocut of Justin Bieber in progress. I have no special interest in The Bieb, but was inspired by the loving attention of this artist. The final design is very swamp monster, but it captures some of his essential creepiness. Paul made a cool cut of his dog.

We’d never done this with sleds before, but we’re bound to repeat it.

And a turntable reenactment to send us out. Hasta luego!

>> Twin Sister – All Around And Away We Go
>> X – We’re Having Much More Fun
>> Cambodian outro

SPECIAL SCREENINGS OF HITCHCOCK are happening within walking distance, at the strange new Trylon microcinema and the Riverview, our ‘hood’s best bragging right. I’m a Hitch-lover, but I underestimated the charge of seeing “The Birds” in a crowded house—with buffs hooting and laughing beyond usual Minnesota decorum.

I found details I’d missed: Tippi Hedron’s green suit that stays unruffled through a half-dozen attacks, only to be pecked to shreds at the end (along with her steely demeanor); Suzanne Pleshette’s brooding, loser-ish existence that (I see now) marks her as a casualty even before the birds finish her off.

It even felt topical. At the peak of the berserk attacks, townsfolk are left wondering if they themselves are to blame for nature turning on them. Nearly 50 years later, there can be no doubt.

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Nick Reding’s “Methland” explains the rural methamphetamine epidemic in terms of disappearing industrial jobs, shrinking wages, and an abundance of fertilizer, which contains a key ingredient for the drug’s production. Congress had a chance to shut down the source of ephedrine (another main ingredient) in 1985 and nip the problem in the bud. Instead they caved to the pharmaceutical lobby who cashed in on those who would crush up and cook the pills into a drug much more powerful and addictive than crack.

I have family in the immediate vicinity of Oelwein, Iowa, the town the book examines, and I live only 150 miles away. Yet I have no reference point for the “delusional violence, morbid depravity, extreme sexual perversion and almost otherworldly, hallucinogenic dimension of evil” meth has wrought in Reding’s description. Since reading “Methland”, I’m attributing people’s odd behavior to the drug: the woman clearly shoplifting at Walgreen’s who, when stopped for her receipt, abruptly hands her “purchase” to the cashier saying “just hold this while I have a cigarette”; The girl behind me at the coffee shop with the awful scabs on her face who struggled to pull her dollar out of her pocket.

Of course, you don’t know who’s a tweaker, who’s sick or who’s just unlucky (or maybe all three). It’s reassuring to think addiction only happens to people who’ve made lousy choices—people we’re separated from by good sense and propriety. But when it wrecks a whole region, we all share in the moral failing. That a drug can erode the humanity of so many people, families and communities and yet be invisible to those living comfortably nearby deepens the tragedy.

INHUMAN COLD is collapsing my holiday balloon fast. But it’s fine weather for filmgoing, by way of the budget cinema and the wonders of Instant Netflix. I found special resonance in the last three flicks, “The Hurt Locker“, “Time Out” and “Up In The Air.” As someone preoccupied with issues of work and personal identity (My job does not define me! Oh wait, it does! Do I even want that? Maybe!), I enjoy watching people in professional turmoil.

“The Hurt Locker” follows American soldiers in Baghdad whose daily routine is to avoid being killed, intentionally or by accident. They ride around with their heads down looking for improvised explosives to disarm. If they aren’t blown up or shot, they move to the next cache. The film asks you to question your own fortitude in the face of unremitting tension and death, and the soldiers showcase the full range of reactions, from paralysis to casual indifference. You can’t help but admire the talent and technical expertise required of modern warriors—or wonder, as one does with any job, what if anything their efforts are worth.

A stable corporate breadwinner unravels in “Time Out,” a French film from 2001 about a recently fired executive who deceives his family into thinking he’s still on the job. He leaves home in a suit each day only to drive around in circles, stopping to wander the hallways of companies where he doesn’t work, creepily invisible. You almost think his charade will magically redeem him, but when it inevitably collapses, you’re reminded that escape from work is impossible (at least for us middle-class suckers).

“Up In The Air” sheds light on the blindness of vocation: how we ignore the consequences of what we do, excusing ourselves because we do it well. Competence trumps compassion. George Clooney’s supremely confident “employment termination expert” dispatches soon-to-be-former employees with a wink and a packet. But despite the “first day of your new life” pitch he gives the people he cans, he’s not doing anyone a favor, himself included. His self-proclaimed freedom from obligation (about which he gives motivational lectures) seems enviable at first, then starts to look clueless. If success is the ultimate virtue, why bother?

> Listen: Gang Starr – Work