Monday, December 28, 2009

The Unbearable Arrogance of Being.

IT TAKES A CERTAIN amount of confidence to get through life. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to make things happen - even the common, everyday stuff like driving, selecting fruit, raising children, etc.

When does confidence in oneself become arrogance? When does the politician (or plumber or accountant or teacher or whatever) go from being a person who believes in his or herself to a person who thinks they are the best person for the job? Nobody can do it better than I can, they believe. Is that arrogance?

I just finished reading David Carr's memoir, The Night of The Gun. It was an interesting read - an alt weekly journalist who became a crackhead, got cleaned up, suffered from cancer, raised twin girls, made it bigtime, became an alcoholic and then cleaned up again. His gimmick in this exercise in self-indulgence is that he reported his life rather than writing things as he remembered them. Many of the exploits occurred while he was under the influence of something - his memories can't be trusted. So he found police, legal and medical records and then interviewed friends, family and colleagues from his drug-addled days.

Carr's tales are often redundant and many are stereotypical, like a bad crime drama. But it was a fun, easy read with amazing insight into the thought process of the addict.

The book, I think, is really about addiction in all it's forms. Carr clearly was addicted to drugs and alcohol. But I think he was (and maybe continues to be) really addicted to life, and his place in it.

Is it arrogant to write a memoir? Isn't the author sharing their personal history in order to educate, or at least entertain? Aren't they saying that their life has value to others?

I searched for the purpose of Carr writing his life's story. On one hand, there is a huge sense of narcissism and arrogance. On the other hand, it's an entertaining and informative tale from a guy whose work I have respected for some time. I learned a lot.

Ultimately, I think that Carr wrote the book because of his zest for life. He documented his existence because he fears it won't last long. His track record and his family history point to a short lifespan, and he wants people to realize that he didn't waste his time or talent.

I can appreciate that. It's something I think about all the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

History for the Common Man. Very Cool.

PHILLIES SHORTSTOP JIMMY ROLLINS (second from right) presented his 2008 championship season uniform to the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia today. His jersey, cleats, hat, batting gloves and other accessories will be the centerpiece of the museum's sports exhibit when the museum re-opens in the fall of 2010.

"People live and breath sports in Philadelphia," said the museum's executive director, Viki Sand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The World Is A Museum. Experience It.

AFTER 15 WEEKS OF discussion about the fate of museums and their connection to the public, I've come to two conclusions.

First, there is a disconnect between what curators present and what people want. People still travel and they make museums a part of their journey. I just can't help but wonder whether tourism and education necessarily go hand in hand. I get the feeling, some people are just going through the motions and not EXPERIENCING life.

Second, museums need a dedicated funding stream. They need to operate like small businesses and ensure their sustainability. A big part of that is developing a rock solid mission statement that takes their AUDIENCE into account. Too many museums, I fear, expect to be lauded for what they've done in the past. But the world is crazy these days, what with the Internet and all.

The takeaway from the semester? There is a story behind everything - people, buildings, streets ... even behind history itself. I'm fascinated by the notion that the majority of history is thrown out, deemed as irrelevant, and that people in high places essentially create a narrative that we are told is history.

Stories are all around us
. Rather than wait for someone to explain them to me, I'm going to discover them on my own.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Value of Images Outweighs All.

IT WAS ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S spartan yet powerful prose that sent me traveling around the world. I had to see Paris after reading A Moveable Feast. After reading A Farewell to Arms, I wanted to experience living in Italy, absorbing the culture by walking the medieval streets and drinking wine in the piazza. I wanted to run with the bulls in Spain after reading The Sun Also Rises.

Those books got me excited. I had to see those places. Reading about them was not enough.

On my subsequent trips, I tried to stay extended periods. The parachuting tourist is the bane of my existence. You can't experience the life of those places in a day or two.

When I travel, I am always very conscious that I smile constantly - walking down the boulevards, sitting in restaurants, climbing mountains, whatever. I can't help it. I'm a happy dude. I wear it on my sleeve. It gives me away as a tourist, for sure, but so does my relentless shooting of images.

The images are more than souvenirs, the way that I remember those places, those people or those moments in time. They are trophies that I show people later, telling them, "You have got to see this!"

To me, banning someone from taking pictures is counter-productive to a museum, private or public. The museum exists for a reason - for people to see, experience and learn from the collection.

Visits and the memories created are ephemeral. Images can last forever (or at least, a lifetime). Images can be shared (not that oral tales can't but it's not the same). Excitement can be generated by showing others what you have experienced.

Will the value of the museum decrease because images are shared by people? I don't think so. Does the institution lose possible revenue by allowing people to photograph their collection? No. Will random visitor's images wind up all over the web, without any control from the museum? Probably. But who cares? Life is not that serious.

I finished reading Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees while sitting in a square in Venice. I barely remember anything about the book except that it took place in Venice, and it was rather horrible. But thanks to the images I made while sitting in that piazza, I remember that moment like it was ten minutes ago.