Saturday, April 25, 2009

Aesthetics

My roommate brought home a painting when she got back from Amsterdam. It's huge, 2 feet by 4 feet, and is composed of deep blue, a bruise-ish purple, brackish green and occasional strips of white. Also teal, which is a color I have always hated. Have I begun to convey the fact that I really don't like this painting? It's meant to be abstract, I think--just wavy lines emanating from a central blue circle. Where the hell did this come from? I asked myself. Surely she didn't lug it all the way from Europe. I noted with trepidation that it's about the size to be hung over a couch, and that the wall behind our futon is conspicuously bare. Shudder. I couldn't really say anything about hanging it in the living room--not directly, anyway, not until I knew where it came from, especially since no fewer than 3 of my own paintings are currently on display downstairs (the difference being of course that mine are actually attractive). Why is it that there's nothing so truly off-putting as bad art? Is it because art is meant to be appealing, or to convey a message, and that bad art fails to do either one? Can there really be such a thing as bad art, I mused philosophically? Yes, the resounding reply came, and if you aren't careful you're going to have a big hunk of it hanging in your apartment forever, and your friends who know you paint will think you are responsible, and it sounds bad to say, "Sweet Lord Jesus, I'm not the one who did that. I'm not the one currently despoiling your retinas with what looks like the kraken emerging from the depths of oceanic hell."
I discovered later, when Roomie's boyfriend was over, that it was his painting. "I did that," he said simply, as if it were no big deal, as if he had not essentially just copped to aesthetic murder. "Oh." I said, and since I had given up lying--even little white ones--for Lent, continued hesitantly (hoping to convey a sense of fraternity, one artist to another--and further hoping he'd accept that as a compliment of sorts), "It's so big. Where do you go to get canvas that size?" We talked for a bit about the relative merits of Hobby Lobby versus Dick Blick's, and finally I said, "It'll look really great in Roommate's room."
"Well, it'd take up the entire wall, though, wouldn't it?" he said.
I wanted to reply, "Yes, but it would take up an entire wall down here, too, dammit," but refrained. I'm hoping the fact that Roomie hasn't put it up anywhere yet is an indication that she has no desire to do so. She's not the type to put things off. But until I know for sure, the painting crouches beneath the stairs, and each time I pass it I can feel it ready to spring.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Metro, Pornography, and My Self-Esteem

Sure, there are all the 'normal, sane, sensible' reasons to love St. Louis' Metro, despite their recent cutbacks in services...*I swear no one is paying me to say this, though if someone from the transportation department would like to cut me a check, drop me a line and I'll send you my address. Just kidding. Why not? Because if I were a stalker, that's exactly what I'd do to get my prey's location.*
It's almost always on time, though that still sometimes means waiting twenty minutes for the damn train. Fine in April, not so fine in January.
If you are affiliated with my particular university, you get a pass for unlimited travel each semester; a pass that's free (and I love free things, though I am often reminded of something my father once told me: "Nothing's really free but God's love and syphilis." Ah, the happy childhood memories of having an ultrareligious father who worked as an epidemiologist in an STD clinic). I use the metro round-trip four days a week, something that would cost me 2.50 a pop; thus I save forty dollars a month over 'retail.' Kaching, says my inherent Germanic cheapness.
Now, the real reasons: Interesting people ride the Metro. People like you, and people so different from you that you might as well be different species, a luna moth and a sugar glider eyeing each other across the aisle.
This is going to sound awful, but I'm going to say it anyway: when I am having a low self esteem day after being around my fantastically thin and healthy, ultra-intelligent, very rich (as evidenced by BMWs and Chanel sunglasses and Coach accessories) classmates, riding the Metro makes me feel better. I am not trying to corral three children under the age of six. I am not floridly schizophrenic. I am not at the north end of four hundred pounds. And, as the rest of this entry will indicate, I am not an unapologetic and complete perv.
Now, I will first say that I see very few cases in which it's worthwhile to judge, or attempt to change, the sexual practices of others. I'm gay; I have friends who are bisexual, gay and straight; I know several people who have (and have myself been involved in) May-December romances; I know masochists and sadists and people who are into costumes and role-playing. Some of these things aren't my cup of tea, but keep it in your own bedroom or dungeon or whatever and I'm fine. Keep your mitts off of children and animals and I'm cool.
I will further say that while I myself am not a conoisseur (I'm sure I spelled that incorrectly, but whatever) of pornography, I can understand that there are people for whom it's a part of a wider sexual picture. I'm sure there are addicts, too, but that's a whole different topic--let's just say that there are pornographic papyri dating back to the Old Dynasty of ancient Egypt, that people have enjoyed looking at porn for many millenia, and that they probably aren't going to stop any sooner than they're going to stop enjoying cannabis or alcohol or for that matter a good meal. These are all centuries-old pleasures, and enjoyed properly, they don't hurt anybody.
Where am I going with this, you ask? What does porn have to do with the St. Louis public transit system? You can probably guess, but if you can't, I'm going to ask you to sit tight a bit longer.

Now, I am a profoundly German person. The Germans have been accused--and not entirely unfairly--of being weird when it comes to sex. Out of all that Teutonic repression have come folks afraid of their own sexual shadows, but also people who glory in them. I will say that before today, with my own (admittedly quite limited) exposure to porn, the single most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my life was part of a sex scene in a German movie. It was mind-numbingly, profoundly dark and unsavory (at this point some of you are going to ask the name of the movie--and I'm not going to tell you, lest the contagion spread). It made me wish I could scrub my corneas with pure lye, and it occurred to me that if I did not devote the rest of my life to the service of humanity, I would end up in Hell, where I would be tied into a movie seat and forced to watch that scene on endless repeat. Now you know why I chose to become a physician. So there's that. But there is one group of people who have consistently and overwhelmingly beat out the Germans when it comes to inventiveness and pure perversion in pornography. I speak, of course, of the Japanese.
So, on my way home from therapy today (yeah, wanna make something of it?), because there weren't any unoccupied rows, I sat down next to what I assumed to be a nice fortyish gentleman reading a book. I glanced over briefly and noticed that he was reading manga--Japanese comics, essentially. I looked a bit closer, since I don't really like manga but enjoy graphic novels now and again (he obviously had no idea I was looking at his reading material or he would have--at least I hope to God he would have--concealed it somewhat) and saw it was what is known as hentai. Not run-of-the-mill anime porn, either. On the two pages that I could see were a series of acts that, despite my esoteric Ivy-League vocabulary, I lack the words to adequately describe. I was reminded of this Onion article which at the time I dismissed as hyperbolic. But no, it was there before me, in black and white, in the hands of this graying and unassuming fellow passenger. It made the German film I saw look like The Sound of Music. Orifices and fluids and medical devices and, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, tentacles... so, as nauseous and doubtful about the existence of Ultimate Goodness as this whole escapade made me feel, it upped my self esteem somewhat on what was otherwise a low-ebb day. At least I do not read soul-crushingly, mind-bendingly profane pornography on public transportation as if it were the latest Tom Clancy novel.