Thursday, May 26, 2011

"We create because we gather together."

Speaking frankly, I create because I'm sort of a chauvinist loner. Sure, I have created in teams, when I'm forced to, like group projects or orchestra or something. But participating in a group for its own sake never felt exciting. Some people get into a group and share ideas and they're like "OMFG WE'RE IN A GROUP SHARING IDEAS WE ARE AWESOME." And then they call a school assembly or a company-wide meeting to form an even bigger group and tell everyone how awesome their group experience was and SHARE SHARE SHARE. And I was always the loner in the back row clapping politely and thinking in my head "wtf is your deal?" I had an asshole-ish running commentary in my mind about the speakers that was difficult to shut off even as my better self tried to pay attention to the speaker. I'm sure if I had shared my asshole-ish thoughts more often I would have found a like-minded group of other assholes and we would have shared and stuff too, but I didn't and I ended up in a circle of friends who were more absurdist than snarky. This is why, even though I don't fear public speaking, it is still annoying when people try to reassure me that the audience is rooting for me, the speaker, to succeed, because I know that that simply isn't true. Transitioning into a reasonable adult who actually does root for the person on stage and empathize with their efforts has taken time but has mostly been a success, and I found myself able to test this progress at last night's Pecha Kucha. As I was very much PMS-ing last night (sorry, TMI) this progress was REALLY put to the test.

They started doing these Pecha Kucha nights in Tokyo. The name is Japanese for something like, "come together and share," or something. Then someone brought it to Charleston. There's a gathering, you pay to get in, and there are about 10 speakers who give 6.5-minute presentations about a topic very loosely related to creativity. I'm unclear on if they're asked to speak or if they volunteer. They project a slide show while they speak and during intermission you can buy doughnuts and beer. (I went over for an ice-cream-doughnut sandwich and they were all out, which is probably for the best). Unfortunately I didn't stay for the last several speakers because, while I was enjoying the presentations, I began to feel extremely sorry for myself as always happens on that particular day of the month.

After we spent about 2 hours of milling around a field, boozing and people-watching, listening to DJ's Cassidy & the Kid (fun), the sun finally set and the slides began.

The first speaker was Karalee Nielsen, a resturanteur who started a group that operates Poe’s Tavern, two Taco Boy locations, Monza, and Closed for Business. She focused on the creative, constructive part of running and opening a restaurant and explained how her team worked. It was cool to see some of the faces and processes behind the restaurants, since I go out to eat as much for food as for entertainment. Now I've got more to visualize. Nielsen spent lots of time graciously thanking her crew, which made me feel good, though I'd have been interested to hear more about some of the problems they solved and what it's like to run a restaurant.

Next up was Ethan Jackson. Let me explain: back in high school when I took the Spanish AP test there were numbered categories of how good your written essay section was: excellent (5), good (4) and so on. But there was one category beneath "poor (2)" which was, inexplicably, "nonsense poetry (1)." I have always remembered that phrase and wondered, first, why it was beyond bad and second, what the examples of this could possibly look like. I must have missed some critical information (I couldn't hear everything) because as Ethan Jackson got going and the words he was saying failed to mesh into coherence I thought, "this is it. This is nonsense poetry." But I enjoyed what I saw. The introductory blurb he gave the MC was basically about what a terrible person he was-- I enjoyed that and very much identified with it-- then he lanked onto the stage (if that isn't a verb it should be) and proceeded to have fun in front of a slide show of surfers, motorcycles, hip hop stars, RunDMC Adidas, Kathryn Hepburn on a skateboard, and finally his coworkers in a time-lapse stop-motion video, also having fun. Going back and reading his bio today on the Parliament site it's starting to make more sense. He has worked in advertising for a bunch of companies in NY and Spain, then moved back to Colombia, SC and works at a firm called Lunch + Recess, while serving on the boards of several organizations including the Indie Grits Film Festival (see my post on Toro y Moi). I think his presentation was all stuff that inspires him. Again, it was difficult to hear everything he was saying.

Then Kate and Lindsay Nevin talked about opening a creative "commons" building at 1600 Meeting Street. I've driven past it dozens of times and wondered about it sitting empty. I always assumed it was condemned or something but they showed photos of the inside and it is quite lovely. They want to put architects and designers and people in offices in there, so it's probably something I could never afford or use but it sounds neat. They talked about how there is a "creative corridor" running up Meeting/East Bay area and showed a map highlighting places like Santi's, Taco Boy, Tatooed Moose and some galleries and design places on mid-lower Meeting. I understand gentrification and what it takes to make an area a good investment. Yes, it made sense. But in the back of my mind the map read like outposts of where white kids like to hang out in the middle of a predominantly black area of town, being shown to a predominantly white audience in a predominantly white part of town. Like we were plotting a takeover or something. I hope that as the "creative corridor" idea takes off investors and enthusiasts are able to appreciate what is already there in the neighborhood and that it is revitalized for everyone in it. Of course the 1600 Meeting project sounds exciting and I'm certain that's not at all what they intended the map to be. They also mentioned that the idea was formed several Pecha Kucha's ago, which was cool.

Hailey Wist, whose documentary film The Garden Summer is soon to be released, talked about how she and a group of five other young people started a farm in Arkansas (I think) as a response to the food-crisis feeling after watching such films as Food, Inc. They grew crops sustainably, sold them at a farmer's market, and used the money to buy and eat locally. She showed slides of them on the farm and a teaser for the film. It looked, honestly, like heaven.

Mary Mac McFadden identified herself as a designer, even though she has a degree in architecture. My dad is an architect and has a real problem with interior designers and people who aren't architects referring to themselves as architects and doing an architect's work, mainly because of the qualification issues. So I'm familiar with architectural anti-designer rants. That's why it was novel and enlightening to see McFadden identify herself as a designer and discuss design as a creative process that spans many professions.

Then Yve Assad and Will Fulford, who founded TheFastandDirty.com, an online flat-track motorcycle racing magazine, explained the history of flat-track racing while three riders drove around the perimeter of the park and entered the stage area with a puff of dry ice. They showed film of people racing in the '20s on hand-laid wooden tracks with no brakes, no throttle (just "off" and "full speed go") and no protective gear save leather "helmets." When they crashed, if the collision didn't kill them, they'd get so many deep splinters from the track that they'd die of infection, because it was the freaking 1920s. So they moved racing to flat dirt tracks instead. Plus, the wooden tracks were a pain in the ass to build.

I left while Carolyn Evans, author of Forty Beads; The Simple Sexy Secret for Transforming Your Marriage, was speaking. She probably has awesome advice, though once I heard the name of the book I couldn't stop thinking about anal beads. "Dang, that's a lot of anal beads," I thought. She was in fact referring to her birthday gift to her husband of 40 beautiful antique glass Venician beads, along with the promise of daily sex for 40 days (which she promised drunkenly and then thought "oh crap I cannot do this" the next morning). In the anecdote her husband asks, "What am I supposed to do with these beads?" Evans left this teaser as a mystery so we'd read the book, but in my mind I immediately answered, "Put them in your butt." Since this book and method is so popular, though, I am guessing that is not the correct answer. Plus you don't really use loose artisanal glass beads for that. And is it just me, or would 40 straight days of sex not really be that scary? The only problem I see, assuming you could just do oral some days and give your genitals a rest, would be getting extremely pissed/annoyed at your SO one (or more) of those days and still somehow delivering on the sex. In movies when couples start fighting it's sexy-fighting where all of a sudden they stop yelling and slam themselves, smooshed together kissing, into a wall. Whereas when I fight it's because I'm irritated, petty or angry, and it doesn't lead anywhere except maybe a crying fit or food binge.

And that, for me, concludes Pecha Kucha. I liked it, and even though I was PMS-ing I found that watching presentations as an adult is very different from in high school in terms of mental snark. I felt sort of community-y, a little excited, and more informed about what people in Charleston do, enjoy, hope for, and create. I think I will do it again next time if I can get my ticket before they sell out.

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