Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Adventures in Hedonism - Neverbuilt Los Angeles

Sunday I visited the Architecture + Design
Museum for the first time. I went to see the "Neverbuilt Los Angeles" exhibit, a collection of architectural models and drawings of proposed buildings and structures that never made it past their design phase. It was a great show and great afternoon.

One of the nice things about this museum is that it is located right across the street from LACMA. This allowed us to make a day of the trip, starting with cocktails and brunch at the Stark Bar at Ray's. Everytime I go here, I wonder why it’s been so long since my last visit. I love the way LACMA has evolved - and as a cocktail sipping hedonist, the Stark Bar is a cornerstone of that evolution. Craft cocktails created with homemade infusions such as, masala rye whiskey; or unique cocktails such as the Morning Glory Fizz - made from scotch, absinthe, egg white and and freshly squeezed lemon, or the Silk and Gators - made from Cognac, Sherry, Vermouth, and Fernet. Honestly, I could have just spent the afternoon here and had a wonderfully hedonistic time sampling their cocktail menu.

But we Came for Neverbuilt Los Angeles, and that was delight itself. Part of this year’s Pacific Standard Time collection of integrated exhibits celebrating LA, we'd already seen the Modern Architecture exhibit at the Getty which told the story of LA’s growth and evolution. This show, on the other hand presented a fantasy view of LA, the LA the could have been. A massive Frank Lloyd Wright makeover of downtown, complete with underground speedways, a forum, and airstrip. Towers to rival the Empire State Building, or a chain of man made islands off Santa Monica bay complete with freeways and boat slips.

I think I took particular pleasure in all the proposed mass transit systems. All monorails and people movers - this was the future promised me in my childhood. Disneyland expanded into everyday life. Every building had a helipad or landing strip. Airport waiting rooms in their entirety plucked up by helicopter to pluck it down just outside the airplane ready to board. I suppose somewhere along the line we began to realize how unpleasant a sky full of noisy helicopters might be, and so many of these visions fell by the wayside, opposed by neighbors or left unfunded.

It's hard not to take an imaginary ride through these potential futures. This was aided by some clever additions to the exhibit. The first being three large lenticular portraits that overlaid some of the proposed structures over their present day landscapes. Second, a collection of animated renderings of some of the structures, allowing us to do a flyby of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Downtown LA.

Of course along with the fanciful where the horrific. Structures that thankfully never got funded and remain in the imagination - including my own favorite neverbuilt, City of Angels Monument. A 350 foot Angel atop a 750 foot tower/pedistal. It was a gaudy cross between a hood ornament, the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and the Monument to the Third International. I love it for it's absurdity as well as the audacity that thought it could be built.

The show appealed to the child in me, the unstoppable imagination of impracticality. I can imagine myself sitting before a pile of legos ready to build my own monument, museum, or country club without a worry of who else might actually live there, or what other’s might think. The show is a treat, seeing the LA that never was.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Death & Hedonism

I read this article yesterday about a double suicide by a Brooklyn couple who hosted a radio show called “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Now I know nothing of the show, beyond what’s in the article, but as someone engaged in his own “pursuit of happiness” via enlightened hedonism it does force me to take pause and contemplate this sad and ironic occurrence.  Am I on a similar crash course with despair? Is this but a fool’s quest that ensures that I will never obtain the things I seek?

It’s a sobering thought, and one I’m not sure I can fully grasp. On the one hand I support the right to choose to end one’s own life. I’ve seen far too many instances in my own life where the medical mechanics of prolonging life for life’s sake seems so at odds with actual living life. But is what Lynne Rosen and John Littig faced really so dire? Again, not knowing them I can’t really judge, but I’ve also seem many people in my life grapple with depression or addiction to know we sometimes are not in a frame of mind to even perceive let alone understand our real situation. I feel sad for them, as I look through the details of their lives to assure myself that my fate will be different.

And yet, we all are going to die sometime. I figure for myself there are enough external forces at work that I won’t have die at my own hand – why rush things? But in the end who knows what circumstances may be in store for me.

Because life is full of happenstance, or we have a penchant for pattern recognition, I attended the first Long Beach Death Café last night.  Started by Jon Underwood in the UK two years ago, the death café is a sort of salon/movement of communities coming together to talk about a topic most of us would rather avoid, death. The Long Beach event was organized by Jen Leong, and her facebook posting about the event intrigued me – particularly her phrase, “I really believe that having open discussions about death can help us live better lives.” 

As a hedonist that rests upon my underpinnings in existentialism. I regularly return to the concept that it is death that makes life valuable. Since our lives take place in finite space and time, every action or decision is of extreme importance. We don’t get to do them again so they shape both who we are and who we become. This is where the “enlightened” part of hedonism comes into play – we must be mindful of our finite space, our limitations, so we make the choices and take the actions that will truly fulfill us and make us happy.

So the Death Café itself is not intended to be a support group, or be in line with any particular belief structure – rather it is just to have an ongoing conversation about death in all its many incarnations. The salon like structure immediately appealed to me – and since this first meet was such a small group, I probably talked more than I should have. I don’t want to say too much about the content of the evening, as it’s intended as a “safe zone,” with individuals’ sharings to be treated in confidence, but topics this evening included suicide, preparing for the death of loved ones, immortality, and reincarnation.

I went into this session wondering how sustainable it could be. Honestly, how long can you talk about death before the topic is exhausted? But I found as I left, that we had barely touched the surface. That despite already talking plenty, I had so much more I wanted to say, and query, and listen. We hide from death, but it is always around us and plays a role in so many things. I’m looking forward to future editions of the death café – long may it live.

That brings me around to the beginning my day, because it also fits the pattern. As I got up for work and scanned my messages while coffee brewed, I got word that a friend of mine had been in a car accident. He survived and despite some injuries was able to walk away from a situation that easily could have killed him. It’s these moments, these brushes with death, that make me realize how fragile and precious life is. It prompts me to be grateful, to honor my mortality, and make sure that I am making the decisions and taking the actions that will lead me to a more fulfilling life.  There are regrets one can have for things that were done, but far worse are the regrets for the things we never get around to doing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Adventures in Hedonism - The Lyrids

Chalk it up to boyhood fantasies of being an astronaut, or simply that desire to sit in awe of nature, but I have a love of astronomical events - eclipses, comets, the movement of the plants - all of it fascinates me. Early in the year I added a number of events to my calendar to make sure I wouldn't miss them. I paid particular attention to the meteor showers. The Lyrids come every year between April 16 - 26 usually peaking on the 22nd. This year we managed to find a place in Joshua Tree during the peak. High desert, clear skies, a perfect place to watch the shower unfold.

Well, despite the facebook claims that this would be the "rarest of events" and that "thousands" of meteors could be seen, I knew enough to consult some actual astronomy sites to understand what might actually be in store. Yes this is one of the main annual meteor shower events, but the moon was approaching full and would be spending a fair amount of time in the sky durring the peak event. That moonlight alone could wash out many of the fainter events.

Living in the city with so much other competing light pollution it's hard to conceive of how much light an almost full moon can produce. On our first evening, stepping out in to the night it was amazing to see how much detail you could see once your eyes adjusted - the boulders, the cactus, the Joshua Trees, the lone dirt road riding along the valley floor. But looking skyward, Jupiter, Saturn, some of the major constellations - an absence of the star field I had hoped to see. I probably spent at least an hour hoping that some significant meteor would streak through bright enough to compete with the moon.

Alas, I saw nothing, but I knew that might be the case with the moon as it was. There was still a chance after moonset. So I set my alarm and got a little sleep in the meantime. 4:30 is never a comfortable time to get up for me, despite doing it for work on a near regular basis. But I got up before dawn and looked up at the most magnificent sky. The Milky Way stretched out across my view and I could see the earth riding the sun along the edge of the galaxy. A multitude of constellations who's names I don't know made it difficult to finally locate Lyra - the focal point of this shower and the brilliant star Vega pointing the way.

I let an hour pass, and then the first glow of dawn started to peak from behind the mountains. Slowly the pink and orange glow started to erase the star field as once plentiful constellations started to fade into the sky leaving only Saturn and the brightest stars. I didn't see one meteor - and having read the astronomy sites, I knew that was a possibility. As predictable as these showers can be, whatever you see is couched in so many variables that it's impossible to predict what minute particles left over from passing comet's tail might actually strike the earth's atmosphere and leave a trail to make a wish on.

There are still a few days left in which to see some meteors fall.

I will keep watching.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Helping Those in Need

If you read any of the literature on happiness and being happy, one of the things that always comes up is helping others. It seems that when it comes to creating the greatest sense of satisfaction in our lives, maximizing our hedons as it were, it's hard to beat the seemingly selfless acts of charity and doing good deeds. Thus perhaps one of the best ways to selfishly increase our pleasure is by acting in non-selfish ways.

Well, Today I put that to the test. You see, yesterday when I came home from work I was baffled by this mysterious mewing. I looked around but since I had this head cold in December my stereo hearing has been off. Consequently, I spent a good time spinning about trying to detect the origins of these sounds - until I eventually looked up.

There in the tree, on a way too high to reach branch was a young cat. The cat clearly unhappy and unable to find a way down, I found myself in the middle of a stereotype. Childhood images flashed through my mind of calling the fire department, hook and ladder trucks, and a kindly old woman happy to get Mr. Whiskers back. Then I recalled a more matter-of-fact comment that such things were ridiculously unnecessary. The evidence being that nobody ever found a cat skeleton in a tree.

So I walked away.

Guilt tinged - but when I walked the dogs later that night I didn't hear a sound. She must have climbed done I thought, "well done, cat." The next morning as I walked out to the car, a cat was meowing. The same cat in the same tree. Afraid of the dogs she must have shut up the night before. I went to work feeling a bit guiltier.

Cat at Dawn
Tonight, when I came home, I spotted the cat still in the tree. Quiet. I was not going to be that first person to discover a cat skeleton in a tree. Thus I mounted my rescue effort:

Cat at Dusk

Step One - Put on Cat Friendly clothing - 
" I come from Central Cat Command, I am here to help you."

Step Two - Get a Ladder (preferably one tall enough to reach cat)
Step Three - Make Eye Contact (and cute cooing noises)

Step Four - Pull out the stinky tuna 
(Trader Joe's has the best stinky tuna around)

Step Five - Not Pictured - Grab cat, now in a state half way between delight - for tasting tuna after at least 24 hours stuck in a tree - and terror - For being held by a man 50 pounds over the weigh limit of the ladder he was now tottering on; and scramble as quickly as possible before cat's terror reaches it's claws and teeth, or you loose your balance, whichever comes first.

Step Six - Do not get distracted by the raccoon breaking out through the brick wall
 you built to keep him out from under your house
 or thoughts of the Kool Aid Kid, "Oh Yeah!"

Step Seven - Bask in the hedons of your good deed
 watching the grateful hungry cat finish off the  can of stinky tuna

Tonight, I sleep soundly.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Adventures in Hedonism: Butoh in the Park

Sometimes I think I living backwards. Now at age 51, I’m doing things I really should have been doing in my twenties. Growing up I was a nerd, an intellectual with all the arrogance inherited in that word. I placed mind above body, looking down on anyone with athletic inclinations. I read books and lived in the mind and imagination.

What I failed to realize at the time was that despite our culture’s love to divide things into either-or dichotomies, true wisdom lies in finding the harmony and balance between forces. So here I am 51, and just now learning to understand and appreciate my body.

I suppose this might be a consequence of the aging process. A corollary of “youth being wasted on the young.” It’s easy to ignore the body in its quiet health of youth. But as aches and pains accumulate suddenly the body calls out for attention. Still, I don’t come to this space with supplicating thoughts of “loosing weight,” or “eating healthy”– rather, my approach has been more a desire to appreciate the body more, in all its forms – and of course, as a hedonist, it’s pleasures.

Last weekend I was given a rare opportunity to attend a Butoh dance workshop, put on by Paradox Pollack for the Alien Fight Club. This was not an ordinary dance workshop, but one taught by a pair of celebrated Butoh Masters, Koichi and Hiroko Tomano. I will let you follow the Wikipedia link to answer the question just what is Butoh anyway, but if you read on you might get a sense of it.

My first experience with Butoh was seeing a performance by Dairakudakan somewhere in the mid to late 80’s. I was mesmerized by the exaggerated movements and expressions, the physicality and performance art of it. Thinking back on that performance I was wondering what I was getting myself into. Mind you, I’ve started working out a bit, but I’m still 51 and many pounds overweight. Of various types of dance I was familiar with, this always came to mind as the most physically demanding. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, but wondered what other regrets I might experience the morning after.

We met at Griffiths Park. Surrounded by twenty-somethings, including professional dancers, I got that sense of backward living – I really should have been doing this 30 years ago. I was probably the oldest person there - except for the Tomanos . A look from Hiroko teasing me for still wearing shoes and any excuse of being “too old for this” quickly melted away.

I love dance. I love watching bodies defy gravity. I love the primal communication of movement and nonverbal expression. Envious as an observer, it was a revelation to now be the object in motion. I don’t know if this is unique to Butoh, or Hiroko, but the workshop was not so much about the movement of the body as the body's position within the construct of time and space. Movement came from the environment, wind lifting the arms, legs taking root, feet balancing on a globe always in motion. The workshop was a meditation, with the body placed at the center of the universe, capturing it, and creating it fresh; the physical becoming metaphysical.

Yes I crawled on the ground jaw thrust forward to balance my alligator tail. Yes I silently roared like a lion and let my tongue be a flame. You would have been amused to watch. But I left the workshop more aware of my body than ever, felt the tether of gravity run through my navel, sensed my location in  space. I was seeing with my third eye, the one that takes all the senses, combines them with imagination and then creates the reality experienced. We are always dancing…

Now before this sounds too much like I’ve given away all my possessions and joined a cult, let me add that the experience was full of playfulness. Even as the lesson was done, Butoh continued into the picnic that followed. Paradox started to thank everyone for coming, and Hiroko interrupted to remind him that he had to do this a ghost – since the lesson ended with us all dissolving into a pool of acid (inspired by the Terminator). For awhile we picnicked as ghosts and then angels, laughing and transcendent.

There is a story that when a reporter came to interview the Tomanos’ about Butoh at their studio, Hiroko told a newly arrived student to “do interview.” The student, who had no idea of what Butoh was, then did the interview. Hiroko told the student afterwards that the interview was Butoh and that was the first lesson. As a lover of pranks of misinformation and the celebration of chaos, I cannot but be charmed by this story. Indeed I was charmed by the Tomanos and am grateful to have had such an experience.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day

Hedonism is a selfish pursuit. However, the enlightened hedonist knows that other people at an important role in achieving one's desires.

We are social animals and take pleasure in being or interacting with others whether that's sharing an interest, a kink, or a story.

I hope today you'll reach out to all those around you that help you satisfy your selfish desires, your friends, your lovers, and your co-conspirators. Share your love and watch it grow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Awe and Hedonism

Came across this article:

Apparently the experience of awe can improve one's happiness. I suppose in some ways that might be counterintuitive as awe usually has an element of feeling insignificant. However awe is a positive emotion.

In part I suppose its a way of hitting a reset button on your life as you pause to reflect on something greater. That in turn invites taking a sort of personal inventory on how you might fit in with this "greater good."

I have to wonder if this in part is a
Contributing factor of religious and spiritual people reporting greater happiness, that experience of the "Mysterium Tremendom." If so it gives a strategy for the "less spiritual" in finding other sources of awe and inspiration. I know for myself I always experience a sense of rejuvenation in places of natural beauty or in the experience of art.

This connection of awe and happiness fits in with my own value of curiosity. By seeking out new and inspiring experiences we open ourselves up to greater possibilities that either reaffirm the path we are on, or suggest other ways to challenge us to greater satisfaction.

A rational enlightened hedonist cannot lead a static life, finding moments of awe and inspiration are essential to leading a happy and meaningful life.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Measuring Happiness

I saw this out of NPR this morning. I know the UK was exploring ways to develop a "Happiness index" but for a country founded in part on "the pursuit of happiness" it seems reasonable to ask ourselves how we are doing on that front. I'll be curious to see how this develops and the ways the economist come up with to produce such a metric.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happiness and the Tetris Effect

As a rational hedonist I'm always reading articles on how one can improve one's happiness. This one from Life Hacker perhaps draws a few tenuous conclusions from the "Tetris Effect" but trots out some time tested tools for developing a more positive attitude including gratitude lists, acknowledging the positive impact of others, and practicing random acts of kindness.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Adventures in Hedonism – LACMA – Exploring the Forbidden

As a hedonist I love art. Art inspires and good art often challenges your way of thinking, or at least pushes against conventional boundaries. It can present different ways of perceiving and make us reexamine ourselves. That kind of self-reflection and curiosity in turn can challenge us to be better and live a more satisfying life.

This weekend I went to LACMA. I have to say I enjoy how this museum complex continues to evolve. It has become a place you want to lounge and entertain in, to meet friends or bump into passionate strangers ready to share what they have seen, and what moved them.

I came to see two shows and ended up seeing three. The main reason was to see the Caravaggio exhibit which ends this week. Caravaggio is a master of light and shadows his paintings draw you in with their mix of mystery and radiance. What struck me most was the sensuality of his work. Most were compositions that were already standards for religious work. But the buff luminous bodies of his saints and saviors glowed, as ever present drapery fell just enough to feign modesty.

You can sense how the church fathers must have been both awed by his abilities and made anxious by the eroticism of his work. There’s a fine line between the spiritual and the sensual. Caravaggio walked it. I’m sure there were many drawn to the priesthood just to be able to occupy their churches to make them their secret masterbatoriums sublimating their desires into religious ecstasy.

After viewing such displays of 16th Century torsos, it was an odd happenstance to stumble upon the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. The gallery displayed his X, Y, and Z portfolios – X containing images of gay S&M, Y images of flowers, and Z male African-American nudes. I was surprised to see how the exhibit was hung (sorry). Instead of stashing the more explicit works behind a black curtain they were hung on one wall above eye level. I suppose that kept them out of the casual view of children, but still surprising to pass from images of flowers, to nudes, to anal fisting.

Five hundred years since Caravaggio, and the subtlety now turned explicit and yet as the shock of some of the harsher images passed you could see the beauty of line and composition. The pairing of flowers, the genitalia of plants, making sense of turning raw sexuality into an abstract, still sexual, still beautiful image.

The Kubrick exhibit is vast, covering his complete ouvre, but in this afternoon of forbidden sensuality two works stood out to me. The first was the set pieces from Clockwork Orange’s Korova Milk Bar. To go from nude black males, to porcelain white sculptures of nude women used as furniture and a circle was completed. Explicit, in your face, intended to be inflammatory what a perfect set piece to explore the morality of choice, pleasure, and violence.

But perhaps Kubrik got closest to exploring the forbidden in the making of Lolita. The exhibit includes several letters from local pastors imploring him not to make the film. Frankly with 13-year old Sue Lyons playing the title child-seductress role, it’s amazing this film got made at all. It’s uncomfortable to scroll through some of the production stills of “Lolita” eating an ice cream cone. The images unashamedly provocative you can’t help but appreciate the way Kubrick laid out the scenes with nods and implications but keeping within the film standards of the time. In an interview he regrets not being able to be more explicit in the film to demonstrate the extent Lolita had enslaved Humbert Humbert’s desires, but I have to wonder if those same restrictions didn’t help to make the piece more a work of art.

I come away from my day at the museum contemplating the dance one does with social conventions. We like to keep our private lives out of public scrutiny fearing the potential rejection, judgment or condemnation of those around us. Yet it is all the unique and unconventional things about us that make us who we are.

This is the work of the rational hedonist, to explore and discover the things that please and satisfy us, find allies in their pursuit, and navigate around those people and institutions that react with fear and resentment to our choices.

Cheers to the artists who challenge the conventional, they are the allies to we hedonists.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hedonism and Mortality

My cat Scoundrel died today. A companion of 16 years he lead a life full of mischief earning his name early on from the trouble he’d get into. It’s a sad day to think he’s no longer with us, but he leaves us with a lot of happy moments. His was a life well lived.

Some people think that our lives cannot have much meaning or purpose if we are mortal beings, that our end, our transience, make our lives insignificant. I believe otherwise. The fact that our lives are limited by time or circumstances are many ways makes what we do with those limitations all the more important.

Think about it, were we immortal, not limited in any ways, would our choices really matter? Whatever experience we collect, we could always collect more, try different approaches, professions, friends, lovers, etc. We could never really take a risk. Whatever choices were made could always be revisited in the endlessness of time.

Our lives take place in the continuous moment of turning possibility into history. When we make mistakes, we must learn from them quickly, or more often than not find ways to embrace them. Our choices define us as we create our own meaning. It’s that static legacy that lives on after we are gone. It’s that end that makes every small thing we do all so important. There is no chance to do it again.

Nietzsche had a concept of eternal recurrence, the idea that we are forced to live out our lives endlessly in the same exact way each time. It was a sort of thought experiment, would we face that concept with dread? If so, then we should change the way we lead our life.

So whether or not, he crossed the “rainbow bridge” or is creating mischief in kitty heaven, I will miss my dear Scoundrel. But I will also appreciate his unique soul, the time we spent together, and the memories he leaves me with. He made a difference to me and had a tremendously valuable life.