Less Than Truthfulness
Treppenhaus (Stairs) is a photograph by the German photographer Thomas Demand. His art practice consists of painstakingly recreating interiors and environments out of paper and then photographing them. The stairs above reference the art school he attended in Düsseldorf, a self-portrait if you will. Or is it? It turns out when he revisited his school years later that the stairs were spiral rather than angular. It illustrates how good (bad?) our memory is, particularly from someone who is supposed to be a keen observer. Not only do we not remember details, but also (frequently) what we do remember is wrong! This week’s Loupe is dedicated to memories, real or imagined!
Baboon to the Moon, Bags
Some of my most vivid and clear memories are through the bags I carried over the years. I can still see my water-resistant RRR Day Camp string bag, which carried my wet towel, bathing suit, and a constant stench of mildew. Next, was the extra-large camp trunk, much smaller than each of the two duffels my children now bring to camp … how did I do it??? There was also my Morgan Stanley gym bag (first job) that held a rarely used gym outfit, as I was working 100-hour weeks. I have very specific memories of these items, their contents, and their function. Even today, I have a large collection of bags to ensure that I have the perfect bag for the perfect occasion. Think of it as my Birken bag collection, but much (MUCH) less valuable! Rollies, duffels, trunks, folding bags, folding bags on wheels, briefcases, hanging bags, and much, much more! However, I recently found a stylish and versatile bag that will replace a chunk of my collection, the Baboon! It carries lots of things and intelligently has shoulder straps (think backpack), so you can carry heavier loads and free up your hands. It has a water-resistant bottom, so the sand or ocean water won’t impact the contents when the waves roll-up. Also, it has convenient pockets so you can easily access frequently used items like your bottle opener or iPhone. This is the latest hot, hot, hot, direct-to-consumer item introduced to me by bi-coastal Louper Stephen W.!
As a Northshore Chicago Gen-Xer, I grew up on John Hughes movies. Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to name a few. These movies defined (and explained) young adulthood to me. If someone asks me to explain my upbringing, I would direct them to any/all of these films, sorta the way Judd Apatow has helped articulate my 40’s. Things have changed drastically in Hollywood as there are few examples of recent movies that explain young adulthood to my children. Of course, they will know how to relate to werewolves, wizards, and people dying young. But, I can't think of any movie that reminded me of my childhood as much as a John Hughes movie, until I saw Booksmart. This is a great movie. Two high school friends realize they have been playing the wrong game (exclusively academics) to their detriment and are now trying to make up for lost time on the night before graduation. It was funny, smart, and not overly self-aware. It is a movie for high school kids up to any age! I say we bring back the fun to movies immediately, for our kid’s sake!
I don’t remember what attracted me to this book and it was only a few short weeks ago! Not remembering is a critical element of the reason I write things down and likely the reason one writes a Memoir. The Art of Memoir teaches the craft, both how to create your own and how to read a Memoir. It seems to me that there is a (very) fine line between a Memoir and Fiction. Basically, a Memoir is associations (real or imagined details) based on true events, whereas Fiction is associations based on made-up events. Writer Mary Karr knows a thing or two about Memoirs as she wrote the New York Times Bestseller The Liar’s Club (one of of the best memoirs of the past 50 years) and a long-time teacher of a creative writing course at Syracuse. As a student (and teacher) of the genre, she has collected wisdom from the very best in the business. First, Karr points out that accounts of events vary wildly depending on perspective. Every semester she orchestrates a ruse on her students where another professor disrupts her class and threatens a physical altercation; She notes that the abilities of individuals combined with group dynamics lead to significant gaps between what actually happens and what is recounted … this is the starting point! Memory fails on every level. Therefore, how important is “Truth” to the Memoir? What is "Truth" and does it even exist? Now that we have established that memory fails, we also face the reality that interpretation of the events can evolve over time. Further, there may always be a side to the story that wasn’t available to you. Anyway, see for yourself. It primes you on what to look for when writing or reading a memoir, and it is (way) easier to digest than The Liar’s Club (I have horrific images from that experience, really her experience).
I distinctly remember a time before the 24-hour news cycle existed. Sure, it’s a distant and faint memory, but a vivid one. I used to get my news from one of the Big 3 networks, or the early days of upstart CNN and scrappy ESPN. Those quaint days seem very far away now that we have CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and all the other ways in which people get their news/commentary. Divide and Conquer is a documentary about the very successful and controversial creator of Fox News, Roger Ailes. On the eve of Donald Trump's ascendancy to the top at the RNC Convention, Roger Ailes stepped down and was ultimately fired due to sexual misconduct allegations. The timing was ironic because it is reasonable to give Mr. Ailes some of the credit for creating Donald Trump and the world where he could get elected to the Presidency. Early in his career, he moved from TV producer to political media advisor for Richard Nixon, a role he would basically invent for modern politics. He became the man behind successful campaigns; a generation of politicians didn't make a move without first consulting him. The movie then identifies his complicity with fear-mongering, beginning with the Willie Horton ads during the Bush/Dukakis race. This gambit contributed to Bush's victory and was the onset of Mr. Ailes divisive political strategies. The game plan of recognizing and exploiting people's vulnerabilities apparently wasn't just in his professional life, but also his personal. And here we are today. I miss the (slower) Network News cycle!