Friday, May 10, 2013

April Mission--World Book Night Giveaway!!

April 23 was World Book Night U.S. giveaway. Over 1 million books were given out for FREE on one night, and Matt and I were one of a select number of volunteer distributors chosen to hand out 20 of our favorite books....again...for FREE! Here are our stories:

Matt's version:

This month’s mission marks the 2nd year that Chris and I participated in World Book Night. The goal of WBN is simple, if not totally understood: hand out half-a-million books. I say it’s not totally understood because we got a lot of questions and suspicious looks this year; more on that later.

Last year we had an approved location to hand out the books, and it went over really well. This year we decided to wing it, as we headed out into nearby restaurants and stores with our books. I had chosen my favorite children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and Chris had Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The list of books this year was impressive, and it was hard to choose just one to give out. With two of us handing out books, people were able to choose which one they wanted.
There was a lot of interest in the books, but more interest in why we were handing out free books. Several people at McDonald’s asked me if they had to sign something. I found that it wasn’t too hard to convince people, since we really didn’t have an ulterior motive. Aside from one guy at Fazoli’s, no one turned us down unless they had already read both books.

The WBN organization wants you to target light readers. I think we did a better job of this last year (reading takes a backseat to finding shelter, food, and water), as many people we talked to said that they were book lovers. The thing about book lovers is that they love to get free books. They ended up being the most excited about what we were doing, but I was more intrigued by the people who reluctantly agreed to take one. I wish I could find out if they ended up reading the books, and how it affected them. The thing is, I know how powerful books can be, and it’s nice to think that some of these recipients had a good experience with a book they may have never read otherwise.

I’d say this year’s WBN was another success, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Chris' version:

I had a wonderful time handing out books at random establishments. Since we weren’t going to be sitting at a table with a clearly defined purpose like last year, we needed something to put people at ease when we approached them. We didn’t want people to feel put-out, harassed, solicited, or just awkward. We created our own I.D.s and lanyards that made us look all ‘officially’, and tried to match our outfits to look casual-phenomenal (black shirts and jeans). We grabbed a mixed stack of about 5 books each, and headed out.

First we went to Fazolies…to eat, naturally. We scoped out the place, and by the time I came back from a potty-break, Matt had already broken the ice at a nearby table, and made a family very happy by giving them one of each book. Seeing the smiles on their faces, and the ongoing conversation between Matt and them, helped to encourage me to remember that what we’re doing is really cool, and could bring more smiles than raised eyebrows. We handed out a few more in Fazolies, and proceeded to distribute the rest of the books in Taco Bell, Deals, Blockbuster, Subway, and McDonald’s. My greeting was, “Excuse me, did you know this is World Book Night?” (No.) “Well, over a million classic and bestselling books are being given away across the U.S. tonight, and we were selected to be World Book Night distributors!” (A smile comes across their face.) “Would you be interested in either of these titles?” (They ask questions about the titles, and end up taking one with a ‘Thank you so much.’) “Enjoy!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. Put THAT in your Kindle and read it!

Even though the rain was coming down hard that evening, we covered our books with our shirts and ran into establishments where people were looking for bargains and low prices…who better to offer something free to? And they were truly excited to receive these gifts. I must have encountered more people than Matt who didn’t seem to be regular readers, and were undefensive about our approach. It was fun to watch people look askance at the books, ask questions about the stories, and slowly grow persuaded that they wanted to read it. I felt like I talked a lot of people into reading these awesome stories that still have a powerful message for our time.

Overall, a fun and adventurous night. And then, to top it all off, we went to watch the movie Oblivion on the mega-screen. A movie after books is, I imagine, a lot like a cigarette after sex. Love me a little sweet desert of Tom Cruise after a hard night in the rain. Wait, none of that sounded right. Can’t go back. Must…go…on.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March Mission: The Bloomin' Muse Poetry Slam and Art Expo

For our March mission we decided to read a poem for The Bloomin' Muse, a poetry slam/art expo at Living Word on March 15. The theme was "Spring".


Last year I read one serious poem, and one funny poem. The funny poem got so much good feedback, that I wanted to do something fun again, but it turned out to be mostly serious. Oh well, there's always next year. It was fun to read, though, and I really liked it, even if I was the only one. Here it is:

Enjoy It
Saw a crow
Lunching inside a ribcage
At the side of the road the other day.
Felt like I caught Nature in the act
Of poking a corpse with a stick.

Nature’s such a kid sometimes,
Playing with dead stuff.

But hey,
It’s Spring!
A time when we forgive
The earth for being
Cold towards us and all we love.
Swollen-veined leaves,
Blood-ripe fruit,
Pods bursting,
Birds singing,
Bees buzzing,
Bugs biting…
(Hate them),
Everything sporting its new flesh;
Showing off its abs.

Who couldn’t get caught up in it?
Plants, animals and people in good health
Still alive.

This is too much of one thing.
Bodies are painstakingly engineered with a short shelf-life.
Planned obsolescence.

I can hear Nature cajoling her children,
“Oh my, what a beauty you are.
Oh if last year’s flowers could see you now.”

Ah, yeah well, I try.

“Only, I still think I can do better…”


 Extravagant Nature,
Picking her darlings,
Bleaching their skulls clean,
To try ‘something new’.
Cashing in her prize-winners,
For fertilizer.
Tucks them quietly in the sod,
Sometimes not so quietly,
Wrestling them to bed.

 So extravagant a remodeling.

 In this way, generations pass.
People, animals, grass.
Swept away.
And for what?

For me.
For you.
For what you could be
But can’t see.
For your love to be free from greed
Of what doesn’t live or bleed.
For a new seed
Of a dead dream.

 You ask,
“How can this be?”
“Can a man be born when he is old?”
Don’t you know, silly?
Your roots are deep.
They penetrate to the very heart of all that is.
They are the arteries of the Cosmos.
You are the hairs on God’s arm, son!
You, the eyelashes, daughter!
Your brains rot,
But your mind is safe.

 File. Click.
Save. Click.
“X.” Click. [closed eyes]

 Now go ahead.
Sing your most expensive song.
Don’t waste your time,
And mine,
Whimpering your anthem.
What are you thinking???
Belt it out!
Burst your lungs with that one wild song!!!
Make the Universe
Turn its head,
To watch you,
Just you,
And ask you to sing your song
One more time.
Oh, I promise you,
You won’t be soon forgotten,
Or without some new face,
When next Spring rolls around.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

February Mission: Kemper Art Museum


For February we tried to inject a little culture into our brains, and went to see the art at the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. This was reminiscent of our August mission last year, except instead of modern video art, the main attraction was the newly opened Georges Braque Exhibition.Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928-1945 was an entire collect of Cubism art, which Braque and Pablo Picasso invented. It’s interesting to me that students of art put labels to different styles of painting, and more interesting still that some artists choose to do all of their work under one style. While viewing the gallery, I was able to see what made Cubism unique, but I have to admit that I didn’t really get it. There were a few paintings where I did get a sense that the painter’s perspective had varying angles that were all painted together, but overall it just looked kind of… well, juvenile. What I mean is that there were very few that looked like they took a great deal of talent to make.

I think that there is something to be gained to try and get a deeper understanding of something that someone else has put themselves into. That’s why I decided to spend one hour researching Cubism, to see if I could gain at least more knowledge, if not a better appreciation, for the art form.

I have to admit that I may have not made it the entire hour. I basically looked closely at 3 different search results, including Wikipedia, an article from an art site, and Surprisingly, I got the most out of the wiki answers site. It was the shortest, but I really liked the artists’ quotes:

- Many think that Cubism is an art of transition, an experiment which is to bring ulterior results. Those who think that way have not understood it. Cubism is not either a seed or a fetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is realized it is there to live its own life… …If Cubism is an art of transition I am sure that the only thing that will come out of it is another form of Cubism (Paris 1923). 
* artist quotations from 'Picasso speaks', text by Marius Zayas, in 'The Arts', New York, May 1923

- When objects shattered into fragments appeared in my painting about 1909; this for me was a way of getting closest to the object… …Fragmentation helped me to establish space and movement in space.
* artist quote by George Braque, from "Braque", Edwin Mullins, Thames and Hudson, London 1968, p. 55

The summary on Wiki answers made me realize that Cubism is an analytical method. I like the idea of breaking something down into 3-dimensional pieces in your mind, then reassembling them on a 2-dimensional canvas. Now, I’m not saying that all of the artwork we looked at suddenly made sense to me, but I like the idea. I’m sure that the artists liked the idea as well, which is why they spent so much time working on it, but I’m also sure that they didn't always get it right. I think that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time of making my own art. What I end up with rarely fits the image in my head. BUT, it’s also true that sometimes, sometimes, the manifested thing is better than the idea. Or sometimes it’s altogether different, but that’s okay too.

This was an interesting, if somewhat passive, mission that I’d like to believe led to me having gained a little bit of appreciation for some art. My “research” was pretty interesting, even when Wikipedia started to delve way deeper than I was prepared to go on the subject. I don’t know that all art needs context, but for me it can give deeper meaning and interest to the subject. 


This was really fun. The art museum has some great pieces in it, including a great money museum on the lower level, and the concentration of Braque’s works was outstanding. It was a very educational experience, and offered us a chance to break our eye open to some new ways of thinking about the function of art.

Matt and I challenged ourselves to try and appreciate Braque’s work when leaving the museum. Some of it, honestly, was ugly. But could there be a revelation we might unearth that could transform the meaning of his work in our minds as something beautiful? We wanted to find out. I tried to pick out the ugliest piece I could remember for this experiment. “The Blue Mandolin” was that piece. It’s hideoderous. Say it with me, “What thuh bloody hail?” But here’s how I learned to appreciate this piece of crap after a bit of autodidactic sleuthery.

Braque's paintings of 1908–1913 reflected his new interest in geometry and simultaneous perspective. Remember, cubism came at the end of the impressionist movement, which already began experimenting with immediate, personal sense impressions of a scene, and not an attempt to replicate a traditional outlook. He questioned our perspective, and attempted to dissect our perspective into its  distinct elements as we try to ‘blend’ with a summarizing glance. What basic geometric shapes come together in our mind to form the outline of this object? Braque attempted to communicate these shapes and distinct perspective in his painting. But how was that to be done? There’s no precedent? Of course there’s not. So Braque did what any sensible person of his artistic caliber would do: he B.S.’d it. I mean that idiomatically, but not in its worse sense. He made it up. It’s what artists do. And someone must’ve looked at it from the perspective of a post-impressionist, avant-garde artist, and recognized the message of spacial deconstruction of perspective and thought it was genius. The colors, lines, and other novel methods such as decoupage served mostly to accentuate the technique further. The reason, in my understanding, that some of it is more esthetically pleasing than others (see “Violin And Pitcher.” is because it took pains to be so, while the other did not. Can’t always have the music with the message, if you know what I mean.

I would even go so far to say that works like “Blue Mandolin” were supposed to look like crap. On first look, anyway. It is a stripping away of our conventional, rational trappings, our way of ordering the world according to old, familiar ideas. It is the breakdown of narrow perspective; to render, according to some, “familiar worlds unfamiliar, or even hallucinatory,” not to dispose of the notion of perception, but to broaden it. Whereas impressionism took a step back from the crystallized lines of our limitations for reality, and oiled the joints of our mind to enwrap the whole in a single glance blurred to clinching details; so now cubism sought to help us be a bit more conscious of our judgments and categorizations that we often too quickly slip into.

And we have to keep in mind that art like cubism is a bit esoteric, and even the ugly stuff is loved by many people because it is mysterious and somehow stands in our minds as a tightly locked riddle that holds in front of our dim eyes the solution to the secrets of geniuses like Picasso and Braque. Braque himself stated, “The things that Picasso and I said to one another during those years will never be said again, and even if they were, no one would understand them anymore. It was like being roped together on a mountain.”

So, yeah, I think I can say I understand Braque a little better, and even appreciate his works more than I did. And I feel wiser, not merely to his works, but because of them. But, I would have to have a little more wine before I go directly back and try to understand more of Braque’s ugly art anytime soon. One can only do so much ugly at one time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First mission in January, 2013 --We climbed trees!

So we decided to kick things off with tree-climbing. Yup. Oh how close to adventure we so often rot! You don't need to travel across the globe to find's right there in your backyard! Are you brave enough to flout your neighbor's opinion of you, dredge up a simple childhood pleasure, and crack a joint open for a change of scenery? Our stories and pictures below.


We chose to climb trees for our first Not-Rot mission because it was relatively simple, easy to commence, and full of potential for…fun! I used to love climbing trees. Some of my favorite memories are of racing my brothers up the gigantic pine tree that was across the street. We literally had timed races to the top and back down, the branches being so abundant and close together that there was small risk of falling. The tip had been sawn off years earlier leaving a relatively flat area so we could stand hands-free from the branches at the very tip and look out over the two-story houses in any direction. I’ll never forget the hawk-like perspective, “the earth’s face upward for my inspection”,and thinking how different the world could look with a relatively small shift in bodily position.

G.K. Chesterton said that we tell children fantastic stories about the world, not because children necessarily need a new twist on reality, but because we as adults have forgotten how wonderful the world is as it is to new eyes. “These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” We have forgotten there are still adventures to be had even in our own backyard where the organic playgrounds we call trees beckon to us. But many of us are too old. Just in case that wasn’t insulting enough, allow me to rephrase: maybe we’re afraid we’ll break if we brush against the elements like we did when we were children, but I think maybe we’re just mostly tired and working too hard for a sleepy retirement on a nice couch somewhere where Obama can’t break through the walls of our hoarded property. I want to live “close to the bone”. This is my body, that is a tree. Climb on.

Matt and I climbed on a perfect January day. I keep thinking back on it. We had so much fun. We made contests out of picking out ‘climbable’ trees versus ‘unclimbable’ ones, and trying to best each other in a multitude of climbing games. One tree only had a couple small knots we could get a handle on to hoist ourselves up to the lowest branch. Another tree was small and bent over so that it didn’t extend above my head, but we created an objective to walk up its bowed trunk and balance on it for a picture. We had to use muscles we didn’t normally use, we had to problem-solve to get to new branches without killing ourselves, and we were both battling our fear of heights. All the while it was a gorgeous day, with perfect weather.

Looking at the pictures we took is a bit surreal because I don’t usually picture myself at the top of trees. I’ve become a ground-dweller in more ways than one. Every object in the world that registers in our minds represents either a possibility or a limitation. I want to keep the tops of trees open in my mind as a possibility, an opportunity for a new perspective. I want to make friends with trees again, like the boy in The Giving Tree, and I don’t want to realize at the end of my life that I sold everything that was dear to me only to sit on a dead stump.


We didn't choose to climb trees in January because it was easy. In fact, 'easy' rarely factors into Not-Rot missions. Yeah, we know it's cold (or should be without global prepared snitches!!), and we know some dead branches look strong but are really empty husks waiting for the right opportunity to snap off under our weight. But we weren't stupid about it. We wore gloves when we needed them, had multiple points of contact on the tree, and didn't climb too far beyond our comfort range. We took just enough risks to flout our mattress-worshipping asses. Here's what I liked most:

  • Simple, physical activity that acted as a sort of skill check for strength and agility
  • Targeting trees that had good climb potential
  • Creating new challenges for trees that didn't immediately appear climbable
  • Exerting our strength to go UP against demon Gravity
  • Not falling and splitting a pelvis
I was most surprised to discover as the day wore on that my will to climb more trees wore out way before my physical strength. While the activity itself was exhilerating, it was also stressful. A heightened awareness of danger, however small, weights on you after a while. Climbing up wasn't so bad, but getting down was something else altogether! The sense of risk, real or imagined, increased, and eventually outweighed the rewards. We became exhausted. Studies show that our willpower is not unlimited, and can be quite literally spent. However, we can "exercise" our will by occasionally doing just one more thing that we don't feel like doing. Like muscuclar exercise, this incremental increase in risk-taking can amplify and strengthen willpower, and who doesn't need more of that? Sure, safety isn't to be mocked at, but as far as this blog is concerned...get off your duff and go climb something!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 Not-Rot Calendar

The Not-Rot calendar for 2013 is set! Be watching for our blogs to come out by the end of each month. Want to come along? Send us a line!

January 26: Tree Climbing
February 9: Kemper Art Museum
March 15: Bloomin' Muse
April 23: World Book Night
May 4: Shortest distance, furthest culture
June 8: Youtube video
July 13: Host a not-rot meetup--Thrift Art Contest
August 10: Build something for soapbox derby or something of the like for Cesi/Oliver.
September 14: Join a meetup
October 4-5: Camp and Climb
November 9: Burn shtuff
December 14: Join a meetup--caroling/sports/snowball fight

"Are you afraid to die? I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet." --Jack London