A Numbers Game

I deleted two more social network accounts. I didn’t use them for socializing in any way but they still needed to go. I used them to log and sometimes review the books I read and the movies I watched. I thought I wanted to keep track of that but it turns out I don’t.

Up until I made the decision, I’d been faithfully noting every movie and book. I even went back and tried to remember the ones from the past. This was no easy task with no diary or record to reference. The trouble with reading and watching every day over decades is that much of it gets forgotten. There just isn’t enough accessible RAM to keep traces easily available. This goes for things I liked as much as those I didn’t.

I scrolled through dozens of lists to recreate my reading/watching history. Lists of best-of’s and regional lists. By decade, subject, and style. I came up with over 3000 movies and several hundred books. I don’t know what I expected would happen when this memory scrape was complete but whatever it was didn’t materialize. Adding to these lists became just another chore.

The thing that has always bothered me about every social network is the gamification of thought, feeling, and experience. There’s a built-in competition and envy component to every one of these platforms that eats at me like a bad rash. Art isn’t sports and showing off isn’t one of my hobbies. Yet, once you have an account on one of these sites, it’s impossible not to compare. I didn’t follow a single person on either StoryGraph or Letterboxd and still found myself checking ratings and reviews after logging my own.

There’s nothing wrong with talking over takes and reactions with others, but the online version of this has never lived up to the face-to-face one. Despite the endless potential of connection, these platforms feel howlingly lonesome to me.

As with most of the rash decisions I make, the impulse to trash the accounts came seemingly out of nowhere. I’d just gotten home from my eight-day tour with Bill. I was in bed watching a movie I can’t recall (though it was less than a week ago). It occurred to me that I’d need to note the movie on Letterboxd after it ended. This had begun to cause inner resentment. Why exactly did I need to keep track? Would there be a Participant trophy in the end?

I paused the movie, got out of bed, went to the front room, fired up the laptop and started deleting. It felt good to trash hours and days of now meaningless seeming activity. It always does.

It’s only a matter of time until another thing hooks me. But for now I feel like someone who shed fifty unwanted pounds. How long will I be able to keep it off?

My show opened yesterday. Here’s what’s in it.

Mallory and I talked I Saw the TV Glow.

Go see Robot Dreams. It’s a masterpiece.

Tour-Spiel

We’ve been on the road since Monday. Tonight will be show seven of eight. Each place has been different. I wonder how many dates we’d have to do to make them repeat or resemble one another.

The drives between have varied as well. Two hours to seven. Flat lands and mountains; straight roads and endless switchbacks; tollways and unlit country roads. I do the driving while Bill works his phone. We listen to music I choose. Sometimes we talk.

At each place there’s a block of time between our arrival and showtime. We fill it with eating and sitting around mostly. Bill does soundcheck; I don’t. I’ve read at five of the six stops so far. A different thing each time. Afterwards people come up and buy books. It surprises me a bit. It’s generous of Bill to let me do this. I would have been fine with just driving and selling his merch.

I’ve been getting sleepy in the afternoons but by the time the opening act hits the stage I’m usually back awake. Sleeping in a different bed every night is odd but I’ve been getting my rest. I think Bill has a harder time coming down after playing. He says he doesn’t usually sleep much on tour.

In every town he has old friends to catch up with. Most are new to me. In a few places the venues are run by former Chicagoans. Everyone is generous and accommodating.

Indianapolis was a worn cinderblock bar, Asheville a brand-new craft brewery stage, Charlotte an annex behind an art gallery/menswear boutique, DC a punk house in a gentrifying area, Brooklyn a craftsman-made survival bunker, Turners Falls a shambling house and garage full of longtime friends. Rochester will be a record store, Detroit a cafe.

We will have driven 2,500 miles when we return to Chicago.

It’s been a great change of pace from the month of bookstore assembly that preceded it.

It took two and a half years but I finally finished Olga Tokarczuk’s epic Books of Jacob sitting by a window of a house in Northampton, Massachusetts this morning.

I put together a bunch of writing and pictures of Tangible.

I look forward to getting home and putting the final touches on my Rainbo show, which opens Sunday, June 16th. There will be a reception that evening, 5-8pm. Maybe you’ll be there too.

Christina Ramberg

When I went to art school at the start of the 90s, the Chicago Imagists were the academy. Even though the artists who were grouped under that banner resented and rejected the label, as any artist would, they were the monolith with which incoming students at SAIC had to reckon.

The odd stance of this group was an insistence on outsider or naive status combined with a stiff, often anal technique. It made for pictures that often came off as calcified jokes. An even unfunnier, more puritan Surrealism. A studied otherness that almost always felt like a contradiction that could never be squared.

My one memorable experience with any of their work back then was going to the Ed Paschke retrospective on acid. When me and my friends left the museum, passersby grew electrical rays out of their bodies and vibrated like the figures in his paintings. Sober, the same pictures left me cold.

Since seeing the amazing Christina Ramberg retrospective at the Art Institute a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to formulate why her work grabs me while her friends’, husband’s, and colleagues’, doesn’t.

It has something to do with not trying to be funny, maybe. Her paintings are mysterious and self-contained. The near-absence of faces gives these pictures a distance. They often feel like they have their back to you. There are rarely hands and feet either, but they’re almost all human bodies; or, rather, torsos.

I don’t care much about what statement Ramberg was trying to make politically, but her art is clearly about constriction and control. The way bodies carry whatever it is we are, or fail to do so.

There’s a wall of homemade dolls from Ramberg’s collection in the show. They, along with cut-up comic book frames, are some of the jumping-off points for her paintings. But inspiration and influence doesn’t explain where she ended up. These are uniquely odd images that lodge in the mind without ever explaining or revealing themselves.

Ramberg died young and her last work—quilts and loose abstract paintings—hint at a change of direction she never lived to see to the end. These late things don’t work the way the strictly controlled earlier work does. When I go back to see the show next, I’ll probably stay in the first galleries and skip the last.

It’s not that her last things are bad, it’s just that they don’t cast the same menacing spell.

I talked to Bruce Wagner about his new book and other things.