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I, too, am leery of anyone who tells me what to watch on YouTube, but stay with me. I first saw artwork by Kim Keever in the LP packaging of Joanna Newsom’s most recent album release, Divers. Each track’s liner notes are accompanied on the reverse by a landscape image of Keever’s. The landscapes depicted are alluring, lush scenes suffused with color and light. They look prehistoric, maybe extraterrestrial, with a kinship to early-American landscape painters like Frederic Church and his Hudson River School cohort. I couldn’t understand whether what I was seeing were photographs or paintings, and the answer turns out to be: both. Keever makes the landscapes by photographing dioramas he’s created and then submerged in a tank of water, where he introduces color mixtures of various textures and consistencies. His most recent work is abstract, and equally evocative and sublime. This is where YouTube comes in. The videos of Keever’s process — how he creates his underwater paintings — are captivating. He makes portraits of water — or portraits of paintings unfolding?
Whatever it is, we get to watch. And it’s more soothing than whale sounds.
I first saw Chancelor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, at Hendrix College in March 2014. He had yet to begin his meteoric rise, which culminated in his verse on the opening track of Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.” On Chance’s new project “Coloring Book,” church choirs, trumpets and Biblical allusions replace the vibrant, drug-induced raps of his previous mixtapes. Chance now has a daughter, and his elation about being a parent is infectious. You can play his latest work in the club or on the way to church with your grandma (although you may want to avoid playing her the song “Mixtape” … Actually, who am I kidding? Your granny definitely needs some Young Thug in her life.) “Coloring Book” was released for free on all streaming services last Friday.
I've regaled anyone who would listen this week with tales of a goofy Canadian sitcom called "Corner Gas," a vehicle of Saskatchewan-born comic Brent Butt that ran from 2004 to 2009. Butts' character, Brent Leroy, is the proprietor of the only gas station in Dog River (a town in the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan) and is somehow simultaneously guileless and sardonic (and blessed with a stellar "welp" face) as the center of the Dog River universe around which adorably trivial confrontations take on epic proportions only because there's not much else there to obsess over.
Leroy, his assistant Wanda Dollard (played by Butts' wife Nancy Robertson), Brent's old high school chum, Brent's parents, the occasional visitor (a tax man played by Kids in the Hall's Kevin McDonald, for one) and the two-person police squad in Dog River are so intimately acquainted with one another's foibles that we (the audience) need the presence of the new woman in town, the lovely and earnest owner of the coffee shop next door, to unpack their history. I'm only a few episodes in (no post-2005 spoilers, alright?!), but the citizens of Dog River have already called NBC's "Wings" the "Dharma and Greg of its day," found occasion to clarify that Pilates are not named after Pontius Pilate, and had a heated conversation about proper use of the articles "the" and "a," so I may just be in for the long haul.
A couple of days ago, I happened across a Facebook post that contained the following supposedly inspirational quote from Teddy Roosevelt, which I’ll bet you’ve seen before:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
There are times when this rings stirringly true. But you know what? Right now, on this particular overcast Friday afternoon, I’d like to advocate the contrarian cause of doing fewer deeds from time to time. I council some indecision and vacillation, a dose of caution and hesitancy and meekness. I recommend occasionally easing your finger off the trigger, refusing to shoot for the moon, taking off your parachute and stepping away from the open door and firmly saying “no thank you, I've changed my mind."
The author of the Facebook post in question is a man who's engineered a very silly political controversy, which in my experience is not a rare context for this particular Roosevelt quote to be employed. But that’s beside the point. This topic is on my mind because I myself have lately made some decisions that are bold by my lax standards, given that I’m a creature of pathological indecision by nature. Among other things, I just bought a house under somewhat risky circumstances. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t regret said decision, and I’m excited about what lies ahead. All I’m saying is that maybe the American fetishization of boldness and striving and doingness is a little culturally pathological in itself? That after a few unforced errors of sufficient magnitude — after an adventure into the personal wreckage that lies down there at the bottom of failing "while daring greatly" — the prospect of knowing "neither victory nor defeat" can sound like a pretty good proposition? That maybe some hand-wringing Prufrockian anxiety is entirely called for in the messy, risk-ridden scrum of life?
I might also add that while sometimes the great strivers of the world are heroes, sometimes they're its most obnoxious and destructive forces. Sometimes they're both at the same time. You Great Men and Women of Action are necessary, I know — but frankly, you can also cause a lot of fucking problems. Sometimes there’s nothing more hideous than a great enthusiasm, nothing more misguided than a great devotion. Sometimes a cold and timid soul really hits the spot. And sometimes men whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood are cause for going inside and calling the cops.