Yearly Archives 2013

The Stubborn Beauties of Ritual

We have entered the season of ritual. Ritual tree lightings, ritual family gatherings, ritual church services, ritual eating and drinking, ritual weight gain. (Regarding the latter, we enact a whole slew of different rituals in January to undo the ritual effects of December.)

And so it goes.

Ritual gone berserk becomes OCD, such an intense passion for observance and ordering that it morphs into a disorder. Yet all of us can empathize with that, given how omnipresent our own need for ritual is.

And it’s not just humans, either. As I type these words in the pre-dawn hours, comfy on my back with the laptop, the cat, fresh in from its nightly wanderings and happy with breakfast, has ritually jumped up on my chest to get between me and the keyboard, purring like mad, rubbing up against my chin. Typing is thus very difficult and slow (that’s O.K...

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Catapulted Back to Life: A Thanks Giving

It has been exactly 19,531 days since I flew through the air across a motel pool, did a flip and landed on the concrete, fracturing my skull, losing most all that day from my memory, and getting rushed to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles by my frantic parents, my dad driving and my mom slapping me across the cheek to try to keep me awake while en route.

Those slaps are one of the only two images that managed to stay with me of that day. The other is of walking through an alley on the way home, my late and beloved brother by my side, coaxing me along as I sniffled in a semi-daze, miserable as can be.

I don’t know whether my mom’s slaps managed to keep me awake till arriving at the emergency room, but once I did go out I stayed that way for some 36 hours, until well into the next evening, when I awakened unknowing where I was or what had happened.

When I tried to sit up and move to investigate, I discov...

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Hey Good Lookin’! Assessing the Beauty Factor in Work and Life

How much does success in life depend on how good-looking you are? Do plain or dowdy or even downright ugly people get anything close to a level playing field when they’re grasping after jobs and money and notoriety alongside their better-looking competition?

I think we all know the answer to that question, but just in case you’d feel better with some social science backing, labor economist Daniel Hamermesh covered the territory rather exhaustively in his 2011 book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. In it, he reviews many decades of research to come up not only with estimates for how much more money good-looking people make over a lifetime’s work compared to average or unattractive people (4% and 13% more, respectively) but also that they benefit in every imaginable way: landing the better jobs, the lovelier mates, the easier loans with better terms—and even lighter prison sentence...

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Grazings of a Music Omnivore: Two Young Singer/Songwriters

We all have our music, right? The songs to which we came of age, awakened, realized there were deep emotional currents riding along with those tunes and their underlying rhythms. For a while after she first discovered the music of her own time, my daughter and I shared the radio controls when driving in my car: she’d get her girl pop stations on the outbound trip, then we’d switch to my jazz and classical or singer-songwriter stations on the return.

After a while, I realized I was missing out on an opportunity, because to know a girl’s music is to know a great deal of her world, of what makes her sing (and sometimes despair) for that world.

Knowing more about her music meant I could better engage her or at least eavesdrop to greater benefit on her chatter or impromptu sing-alongs with friends. That’s when I stopped insisting on maintaining my half of the radio dial and instead went all in on girl p...

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Beauty, Harmony, Depravity: Musings on Marina Abramovic and Performance Art

Is it possible for art to cross a line into such monstrous or simply offensive or empty moral terrain that it is no longer deserving of categorization as “art?” A quick look at’s basic definition of art yields this: “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”

“According to whose aesthetic principles and using what metric of the ‘beautiful,’” I can hear First Amendment civil libertarians and self-styled avant garde artists asking already. Good questions.

The questions have particular relevance to post-modern art, that period from roughly the post-World War II years and extending into the present day.

Post-modernism, in brief, can be described as an effort across the art and philosophy and larger cultural worlds to extend the conversation after classicism and modern...

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