29 June 2016

Life without a Landline

I didn't actually turn off our landline until late last week.  I was a bit scared to.  After sending a notice to our friends and family, I changed our phone number with our credit card companies and a few other places but I kept worrying that I'd forgotten something important.

Now that the landline is gone, it's a bit quieter at home.  We used to get several spam calls each day (marketing calls, surveys, political and charitable solicitations); now we don't get any.  When I first opened my Google Voice account there were a few spam texts, but after I blocked those senders we were not bothered again.

One thing that annoyed me about not having a landline was needing to carry my phone around the apartment. I generally keep my phone in a purse, not my pocket.  I don't always have a pocket.

Then I remembered reading about connect to cell cordless phones. These phones use Bluetooth to link with your cell so it can stay in one place charging and you use the cordless handsets strategically placed around your home to make and receive calls. You don't have to have a landline to use them. I ended up buying a VTech model and it is working well for my phone. Unfortunately, even though it is supposed to be able to connect to two different cell phones and even appears to do so (the linking process goes smoothly), Victor's phone doesn't make the VTech handset ring.

Not a big deal, though, since Victor is used to carrying his cell phone everywhere.

We haven't had much occasion to use Google Voice yet, but I did give the number to a department store salesperson a couple weeks ago and thus had an opportunity to experience this cool feature in which Googlebrain transcribes voicemail and texts it to you.

The transcription was perfect!  We are definitely living in the future!

15 June 2016

Caught by Sideshow Theatre

We saw Sideshow Theatre's Caught at the Victory Gardens theater last weekend. While we didn't enjoy this one as much as the two other Sideshow productions we've seen (Idomeneus and Stupid Fucking Bird), we found ourselves discussing it a good deal afterwards--it's a tricky play--not at all obvious what it "means."

The set includes a selection of what appears to be contemporary Chinese dissident art, which the audience is encouraged to walk on the stage and view as if the stage is a gallery. Afterwards, the artist is introduced (we may have seen the recent New Yorker profile of him) and gives a talk reflecting on his artmaking, which led to a stint in a Chinese prison. Then we see a conversation among the artist and the writer of the New Yorker profile and her editor. There are concerns about whether elements of the artist's story are true.

This is followed by a conversation between the actor who played the New Yorker profile writer and the young Chinese woman who wrote the preceding scene and actually created all of the artwork on the stage. The artist-playwright references real-life conflations of expectations of truth with fiction such as Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and fake-memoirist James Frey. She talks about how American ideas of "truth" are different from those of other cultures and how proud we are of own "truthfulness." However, she wonders whether our fixation on facts enables us to ignore more substantial issues. The conversation is at first friendly and then fraught, as the theoretical jargon spouted by the artist-playwright completely confounds the actor, who just wants to know what the point of it all is.

The final scene involves two Chinese-Americans at home (the actors include the one who played the male dissident artist in the beginning and the female artist-playwright in the previous scene). These characters have created everything that preceded this scene in tribute to a dissident artist--their mentor--who died in a Chinese prison. After they congratulate themselves on an excellent performance they begin to quarrel about proper interpretations of their mentor's legacy and eventually realize that they each had relationships with the mentor that the other didn't know about. The mentor fooled them both.

So the play is very obviously (perhaps too obviously) about how we get hung up on "truth." And as we watched it I think we felt that it really was much too obvious.

But in retrospect the way each scene builds on what happened before--rather like covering over an onion, instead of  unpeeling it--does make you seriously reflect. Throughout, you are sort of wondering--is this really the play now?  Is that really the artist?  Is there really such a person?  Is the art real, or was it just made up for this play? (Throughout, the assertion that the show is a collaboration with a gallery is repeated in various iterations.)  What does that even mean? As the artist-playwright would say, it's not the point. Afterwards you're replaying it all in your head, wondering whether or when what's true really matters.

Very thought provoking play.  Well worth seeing.

10 June 2016

The School of Life

I just discovered the School of Life. Recently I read one of its publications, How to Worry Less about Money, which I found surprisingly helpful, It was more like a philosophy book than a self-help book, which you would think would make it less useful, but actually when it comes to worrying, philosophy is extremely helpful, because it is all about how to think about things. (When you worry, you are often thinking about things the wrong way.)

The School of Life is something I wish were headquartered in Chicago instead of London. It purports to be about building emotional intelligence, but it's basically a consulting philosophy business. There's a Youtube channel that includes videos about Plato, Doestoevsky, and (a favorite of mine) Secrets of Happiness in 60 Seconds. You can book (pun intended) a bibliotherapist to get a reading prescription for what ails you. And you can scan the calendar and wish you lived in London to be able to take advantage of the in-person program. Some of it is too targeted to corporate customers for my taste, but many of the offerings sound just wonderful. For example, "How to Stay Calm," "Mastering the Art of Kindness," and "Drawing as Therapy."

It's exhilarating to imagine that a business like this can thrive--that there are enough people interested in enlarging their worldview. For people who can't--or don't want to--enter an academic philosophy program, and for those wrestling with a wide range of personal and social crises and concerns, the School of Life offers injections of philosophy designed to address the underlying issues.

I look forward to exploring more of what's available on TSOL's Youtube Channel, site, and online shop.