Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Freak Show

In a  couple of days we perform what will be one of our last Wood Sugars live sketch shows. For awhile. We have plans for the future. One of our members is doing some travelling. Over the past few years we've been doing bits at various Chicago bar-prov-esque venues such as Fizz Bar, The Underground Lounge, The Upstairs Gallery, Mullens. Many others. Usually we get a 10-15 time slot to do a handful of our sketches in the guise of a travelling freak show. Donny would host as Bosco Dunwitty Radriguez and introduce the acts such as "Attack of the Groomzilla" and the "TMI IT guy." Various puns on weird behaviors. We've developed and tried out an alternating line-up of these. The culmination of our comedic experiments came in the form of our first real writers room to create new bits. And then an hour long sketch show with an actual arc, these freaks take flight. You come to love them. Poignant moments help build the tension, then we aim cut it with sharp wordplay. Hey, here's a plug. Step right up to see Wood Sugars Freak Show Featuring Regular Adults

Recently I dined at Riverview Tavern with some family that was in town. A sort of mural adorned one of the walls outlining the old Riverview Park, an amusement park that used to be situated along the river in Roscoe Village, long since shuttered and built over. With the freak show on my mind, I remembered hearing of this while working an event several years back with the photography company I used to work for. It was someone's anniversary party. The green screen back drop they requested was of a carnival-esque rendering of the old Riverview Park. I'm not sure how it related to this older couple, perhaps they had a date there. At one point, an older woman recounted how horrible the park was, that there was an actual freak show there, how horrid she cried. Her passionate scoff resonated in my memory and is prompting me to do some research, some historical scholarship into nasty freak shows of olde in the Chicago area. Shit, I even want to do some hardcore research, this curiosity pique on curiosities, perhaps even going to the library, tooling around on a microfiche, late nights til closing (what, 7pm in Chicago Public Libraries?) like a self serious scene right out of All The President's Men. 

The findings will be in a different post. The show is so close, and the research bug could cause me to stumble upon more weird intrigue. The loop that comes with research. And so I give myself an extension on that part. For now, I'd like to share this article from WBEZ. Apparently Riverview Park caused some racial tensions with their "Dunk the N***er" act. Sheesh. That's just fucking rude. The real freak is the segment of Chicago's population that ate that shit like it was an innocuous family pastime.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Closer. For Tech Startups.

Earlier this year I saw the culture site Brain Pickings feature the book Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman. There was a line of her's they quoted that struck me like a captivating trance:

"Soon the beautiful crystal must be recut. This lovely edge and that one are gone. The whole graceful structure loses coherence. What began in a state of grace soon reveals itself to be a jumble. The human mind, as it turns out, is messy...The messiness cannot go into the program; it piles up around the programmer...Soon the programmer has no choice but to retreat into some private interior space, closer to the machine."

Something about this resonated as I've been dabbling in learning code here and there throughout the year. Indeed my thinking has gotten messier since taking on developing this new skill, but reading bits and passages from Close to the Machine seemed to instill courage to heap on the messiness. In fact life probably never gets less messy, so let's bring it on.

This book has been on my to-read list for sometime and I finally cracked into it later this week. The text channeled in through my eyes like the fluid compulsion a programmer must feel when connecting to solutions long strained for. Close to the Machine reads like a well crafted novel. The sentence is precise. Beyond being a book classified in Technology or Memoir, is something that rings of literature, with swell philosophies that don't feel prattled but earned.

"I imagined I would show him into this music, the slow movement's aching play of major against minor, the intense miracle of logic which somehow, with all its precision and balance still burst with passion. 'Here is how I know God is a passionate engineer.'"

An odyssey of sorts as Ellen Ullman progresses her career as a software engineer, but also examines her own ability to relate to the human experience. Here it takes on the feel of a love story stripped of cliches and mushiness. Yes, there are bits about her relationships with men, and women. And parents. But the thread of love gravitates toward a love of career, and takes it deeper than anything else that focuses on the story of one's occupation.

"In the middle of the demo, I realized how fortunate we were to be engineers. How lucky for us to be people who built things and took our satisfactions from humming machines and running programs. We certainly wouldn't mind if the company went public and we all got fabulously rich. But the important thing was right in front of us. We had started with some scratchings on a white board and built this: this operational program, this functioning thing."

I hope progressions in technology bring along parallels in her train of thought, and perhaps we roll into an age where career obsession revolves more around function, and operating in some way that works, versus the ladder of wealth that gets the attention as one considers success in spite of sometimes stomping on desirable actions. Enter refinement of logic. Ullman, an admitted ex-communist, may not have shed those leanings, but seems to have refracted bits of communism through the blend of logic, and morals. As she questions a wealthy friend: "These men you advise - what do you think drives them? It has to be more than money; they already have a lot of money. What is it - what is inside of them?" Sometimes behavior can be debugged too. Yes I zeroed in and dragged in some mentions of communism. Before you go calling me a communist, I'm not one yet. But perhaps as I gain more courage to sift through and write code, I may learn to have the courage to extract bits from theories for the sake of contributing a unique line to something that works for the big damn machine that is this world we live in.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Reflection on Terence McKenna's True Hallucations

Terence McKenna fascinates me. After hearing him speak in some various YouTube clips, I found him an infectious lecturer and was curious to check out his writing. Now, I consider myself a "pseudo-pschonaut" in that it's been many years since I dabbled in any hallucinogens. My tendency toward anxiety makes that a tricky pursuit. But I've long been interested in lucid dreaming and various topics in consciousness.

True Hallucinations reads like a mad scientist's journal, and for that I enjoyed it. It excites you. Running with ideas is fun. Though in some parts, hearing someone rant about a mushroom trip while you're not on mushrooms yourself can feel a little like being sober in a packed bar, for that it can also get a little exhausting. In the end curiosity in his point of view propelled me further.

I'm intrigued to check into The Invisible Landscape where the McKenna brothers seem to go deeper into the actual Time Wave Theory, whereas True Hallucinations is more so an account of their drug adventures. But an idea that resonates for further exploration is the notion that perhaps alien life has already colonized our planet in the form of certain plants and mushrooms. These mushrooms serve as a sort of star ship for voyages deep into the universe itself. Yeah it sounds a little crack-pottish, and McKenna is a crackpot, though he admits to it and has fun with it. If the book lacked his humor and self deprecation it would have been more difficult to humor back and go for the ride. The universe is crazy, so fuck it, let's explore the nooks and crannies. Ah, the fringe sciences.

Here's a quote to give you a sense of the sort of thinking, that whether you're into hearing about other people's drug stories and mind blowing stoner thoughts, well, the beautiful intricacy of the physical world deserves a little trance-like observation from time to time.

"[Sand dunes] bear a resemblance to the force that created them, wind. It is as if each grain of sand were a bit inside the memory of a natural computer. The wind is the input that arranges the grains of sand so that they beam a lower-dimensional template of a higher-dimensional phenomenon, in this case the wind. There is nothing magical about this, and it does not seem mysterious to us: wind, a pressure that is variable in space. In my thinking, the genes of organisms are grains of sand arranged by the ebb and flow of the winds of time. Naturally, then, organisms bear the imprint of the inherent variables in the temporal medium in which they arose. DNA is the blank slate upon which the changing temporal variables have had their sequin and relative differences recorded. Any technique that saw into the energetic relationships within a living organism, such as yoga or the use of psychedelic plants, would also give a deep insight concerning the variable nature of time." - Terence McKenna, True Hallucinations: Being An Account of The Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise.

I just finished this last night, so these are just some initial thoughts. As I digest, there may or may not be some more nuggets of brilliance or bullshit to sift through and write more about it. Even if there are more swells of bullshit, I have a lot of respect for Terence McKenna. He goes places and shares his experience, and I find nothing wrong with that. Mushrooms grow in shit and when life's circumstances or societal structures get to feeling like bullshit, hats off to someone who devours a delectable fungus and appreciates the show. Because what's behind the curtain may reveal some incredibly important cosmic knowledge we need someday to save humanity.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pungent Parlour - An August Must.

I've got this swell reading series in Chicago called Pungent Parlour that I co-created with my friend Jeremy Solomon. For a couple of years I did one called The Liquid Burning of Apocalyptic Bard Letters with my friend Aaron Cynic. That was, you guessed it, apocalypse themed. After a year away from it I was hungry to have a similar series to look forward to, something salon style, maybe a little looser in terms of theme, in that space in the back room at Black Rock Pub & Kitchen. Fireplaces and couches. Rustic wood. We did The Liquid Burning there, before we got booted from Matilda Baby Atlas when they converted it into a "dance club." We wanted to create a series that was a cozy "safe" space in the sense of writers trying out pieces from any stage of the writing process. New work. Old work. Published work. Desk drawer dust covered work. Each one we've done we've seen a wide variety: funny, violent, poignant, avant garde, interactive, grotesque. List expands. Chicago has a ton of good live lit going on, and I love it all. But I especially love our literary home. We're going into our 7th one tomorrow. We do it every 3rd Tuesday of the Month. I'll be there. I hope you'll be there. 8:30pm