Ninjas and the Art of Webernet Busking

I like ninjas. I’m not saying they’ll win the internet battle against pirates, and it’s quite possible they could be taken down by velociraptors, but still…they’re sufficiently deadly to be cool and have a more complex moral profile than pirates. They can be mercenary agents of evil, but they can also be great champions of good. I suppose pirates have the same potential in theory, but you just don’t see as many depictions of pirates as highly-disciplined heroes who will put their convictions before a good bottle of rum. As far as I know, there have been no notable explorations of velociraptors as heroes or as being motivated by much other than the thought: “Kill. Eat. Repeat.”

If that paragraph made no sense to you, the links might help. Explaining internet memes to those who are unfamiliar is like trying to explain an inside joke…confusing, and not nearly as hilarious as I think they are. I won’t try. I’ll just abandon the whole thing, say what I mean to say about art and Amanda Palmer and hope that the thought process in that first paragraph will not be completely lost on every person who reads my blog. Since I usually walk away from writing with that same hope, I guess I won’t worry too much more about it.

Anywho….about face!

Yesterday, I went to see one of Amanda Palmer’s ninja gigs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, she’s a musician. I have no idea how to describe her music, mostly because I don’t actually listen to the Dresden Dolls or Evelyn, Evelyn. What I’ve heard is a little on the aggressive side for my tastes, musically speaking. And yet, when I found out that she was doing a spontaneous little session in Harvard Square yesterday, I hung around for three hours after work so I could go.

Here’s a picture, though her blog has better ones:

Why did I go to a gig for a musician whose music I don’t particularly adore?

Because Amanda Palmer is a ninja. One of the good ones. She’s a ninja for art, for freedom, and for the value of human interactions. The metaphor will fall apart very quickly if you look past the idea of a ninja as a champion for good, so don’t push it. If you recall the were-sheep incident, you know what happens when metaphors get overextended. This post is already confusing enough without adding a dangerously overextended metaphor into the mix.

The gig was everything I hoped it would be, though I went in not knowing what to expect. Worst case scenario, I imagined being surrounded by the intense odor of patchouli while she sang a ton of songs I didn’t know. Best case scenario, I imagined her spending a lot of time interacting with whoever showed up and getting into some of her interesting ideas about the art. The patchouli smell and the songs were there in a small but noticeable way, but her thoughts on art dominated the hour, especially since she used us as guinea pigs for a talk she may be giving in the near future.

The video of that ten-minute talk will eventually be on youtube, so I’ll post it for you when I see it, but in the meantime, I’ll share a bit of the ideas I took away from what she said. She spoke about the time she spent working as a living statue and her struggle to figure out if street performance can be considered a “real job.” It’s an interesting question to ask, because it gets at the root of how art should be defined and what it’s worth, either to society or an individual. Street performing also has interesting parallels to being an unknown artist of some sort on the internet, in that you hypothetically don’t need to be published or contracted to a record label to put out your hat and ask for change. The point that Palmer was making is that the tiny individual interaction between a street artist and the audience is positive and precious and that the internet allows us, in essence, to put out our hats and throw our change for art in a much broader way than has every been possible.

This has been on my own mind a lot lately as I’ve been getting more into writing and submitting stories for publication. I love having the ability to put stories up on Scribd, to see the little statistics that tell me I have x-number of readers. On the other hand…it drives me crazy. I can see that people read my stories and my silly little comics, but do they like them? Hate them? Feel utterly indifferent towards them? Stop reading after the first three sentences? I have almost no idea how people react outside of the minutely encouraging fact that I get slightly higher numbers more quickly as I continue to post things, which can be difficult because of something else that Palmer pointed out in her talk: unless you’re making art for therapeutic purposes and locking it in a closet, you’re not making it for yourself. You’re making it for other people.

Which is certainly why I write. Not so much for the hope of fame and fortune (though I probably won’t turn them down if they even get offered to me : ), but to share a story that matters to me…to make people chuckle or frown or smile or think or laugh until they cry. Or maybe cry until they laugh. My sisters have kindly kept me from having any illusions about how funny I am. The point is that art, be it music or writing or standing on a box in a silly costume, doesn’t mean anything if nobody reacts to it.

The idea that Palmer came around to is that if the internet is to be successful in bringing people together around art, artists have a responsibility to ask for that feedback and audiences have a responsibility to give it. She was speaking in terms of money, which I think is certainly relevant to driving the economic trends, but I think it applies equally (and for me, more relevantly) to giving feedback to art or music or writing that touches you in some way—whether is delights or annoys you.

So this is me putting out my feedback hat. Not as much for the blog: I am not so buried in delusions of grandeur that I think of my random ramblings as “art,” but I am asking for feedback for my stories if one has caught your attention. I’m also asking for the sake of other people’s internet-street art. Positive or negative, feedback is useful to the creative process and for finding motivation to keep going, so give it generously.

In my case, continued lack of feedback may eventually drive me to start busking with my stories. And talking emphatically to yourself in public is ticket for the short train to Happy Dale.

In Defense of Fluff, I Think.

Did you know this is my forty-second entry on this journal (not including link posts)? I feel like I ought to write something about life, the universe, and everything, just in case 42 happens to mean the entry number of Melissa Walshe’s livejournal. But since I don’t actually know the answers and also would not like to accidentally create a cult around a blog entry written in a lazy state of mind while I’m avoiding writing a boring paper, I will write about art instead, because it’s been on my mind.


I went up to Maine for a few days over spring break (hence the lack of posts for a week), and while I was there, Sister Sam and I made a late night movie run to pick up a copy Twilight, which Mom was inexcusably lacking in her collection of guilty pleasure films. We got to talking, of course, as intelligent individuals who are highly skilled in the art of self-reflection, about what made the series so enjoyably addictive and why watching it should make us feel that we are indulging a guilty pleasure.


I don’t really have an answer for those questions, because they spring from a consistent problem I have with standards in art, and more specifically, standards in storytelling arts, because those are the ones I love most. (If you ask Andy Warhol and his art-children, this argument is old and happens across the various media, but since I’m a word person, I’m talking about story-art.)


So here’s my problem: What make Blindness more worthy of the acclaim of art critics than Twilight? I’m not posing this question in defense of Stephanie Meyer’s prose skills or as an attack on Jose Saramago’s relentlessly dark portrait of humanity (or even his lack of readable punctuation, which makes me crazy). I’m posing it as a human being who has far more interested in reading Twilight because it doesn’t leave me depressed and miserable and as a writer who wants people to walk away from one of my books refreshed and excited.


And maybe Twilight is not the best quality example of books that leave one feeling “refreshed,” dealing with the darkness of vampires and werewolves as it does, but it is still (at it’s heart) a fluffy, feel-good, love story. Blindness is more of a slimy, feel-horrific, love/hate story. Yet the slimy, feel-horrific stories will inevitably get handed Nobel prizes and general critical acclaim while the fluffy, feel-good stories get lots of money and movie deals, accompanied by a disdainful nose-wrinkling of anyone who claims to have “good taste.”


Again, I’m not trying to say that we should start judging excellent writing like Blindness as not great. I think one important function of art is to act as a mirror to reflect the myriad potential of human beings to behave abominably, helping us to consider our actions and change them. Art is also a way to experience emotions that are different or more powerful than our own, and I believe its value is as much in its ability to lift us up as to depress us down.


I don’t know about you, but it’s not everyday that I get to feel the buoyancy of star-crossed love triumphant, even if that emotion is mediated by mediocre prose and an admittedly silly premise. So tell me (and I do mean that literally, I’m interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this), why is the art of Saramago more “important” than the art of Meyer?


For those of you who don’t know me or my “artistic” leanings very well, I write (when I can scrape together the time) science fiction and fantasy, generally working from a premise where characters are dealing with situations that they would have thought impossible, like traveling to alternate universes or accidentally crossing the boundary into Fairy. Or discovering that there’s a family of really cute, ethical vampires at their new school…


Writing is my retirement plan when I get too burned out to deal with education any more : ), so this question of what makes art matter isn’t really a hypothetical one for me. It’s me wondering if it’s possible to write what I love to write without being made to feel like a commercial, talentless sell-out if I ever actually start making money at it.


But anyway…enough daydreaming about the art angst of my non-existent life of fame and fortune. This paper on second language acquisition is not going to write itself.