Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 7 (April 27-May 3, 2020)

Painting No. 1 - 4/28/2020 - Mark Pfeiffer
I’ve mentioned feeling pinched for time to do everything I’d like to do, so of course, the right choice for me to make is to pick up something else. I joined a painting group started by friends at work, which isn’t something I would have thought I would ever do. I’ve never felt like I was especially good at drawing, and in my mind, painting seems like it would be even more difficult. But sure, why not give a shot?

We’re working from YouTube tutorials, which make producing these pictures look easier than they can be for someone with zero training. Whether in an educational setting, at work, or in life in general, I think we all have some fear about learning by doing. Who likes to make mistakes? I certainly can be hard on myself for not doing things perfectly or not achieving the Platonic ideals in my head. A funny thing happened as I painted, though. I just did the work and didn’t get caught up in whether I was doing it right or realizing the better version I envisioned.

When it comes to painting, my lack of self-criticism--OK, fine, highly reduced self-criticism--likely is because I hold no great expectations of what I can do. I don’t know that it’s healthy to approach everything as though you have no belief in your abilities so you are then pleasantly surprised at the outcomes, but in this particular case, freeing myself from self-judgment allowed me to just do it and enjoy the intrinsic value of making art. Using acrylic paints grants some forgiveness for errors. I learned through accidents, some of which yielded results I liked and some I didn’t. Mistakes could be easily covered, for the most part.  

I hold no illusions that what I’ve made compares with the paintings done by people with even a semblance of knowledge, but I’m happy with what I completed and to feel the support of the group, which has a wide range of experience among its members. I also really enjoyed having something different to focus on that, for a change, didn’t require riveting my eyes to a glowing screen.


A friend and I have been texting pictures of what we’ve been making in the kitchen during this time, and I expressed interest in trying my hand at some of the desserts she has shared. After tracking down some ingredients at a Middle Eastern grocery store, I attempted to make Layali Lubnan, which translates as Lebanese Nights. I will not bother posting a picture of my failed first attempt, which has the consistency and appearance of a plate of glue, but I got the general idea of what it should taste like while also learning how I botched this so thoroughly. Spoiler: the second attempt the following week was a success.


Guided By Voices ranks as one of my favorite rock bands, but I haven’t listened to them much in recent years. Getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume that Robert Pollard’s project released has as much to do with it as anything. I have a certain fondness for artists who produce a lot for fans to enjoy, but the indie rock legend from Dayton can push the limit because he cranks out new music with such frequency that it can be hard to keep up. (Take a look at the GBV discography alone, never mind side projects and solo material.)

I was inspired to listen again after reading, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, an oral history of Alien Lanes, one of the band’s finest albums. (To humblebrag, I went with a friend to the infamous album release concert at Gilly’s in Dayton, later released as the bootleg vinyl double album Benefit For the Winos.) What struck me most during this fairly lengthy reacquainting with a good bit of the band’s output was there was more consistency and purpose than I recalled even among the songs that hadn’t always worked for me. GBV has a lot of great songs--they have a lot of songs, period--and at some point I think I began to wonder if there was any quality control. This extended listening session didn’t venture into the latter days leading to 2004’s then-”final” album or the all of the reunion and post-reunion releases, but I’m curious to revisit (or hear for the first time) this music.


You can put me down as thoroughly hooked on playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Once I finished my long work days, I turned to my peaceful island for some fish and bug catching, fossil and shell collecting, and home and community expansion. At some point I’ll have to write more extensively about the game’s appeals. I foresee there being plenty of time for that as it seems like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Animal Crossing contains.


Podcast recording was on the calendar, so I actually watched some movies this week. Again, I marvel at how steeply my viewing has dropped off during this time because of everything else I want to do, limited unplanned time, and little impetus to need to watch anything. I suggested  the 2002 inspirational baseball drama The Rookie to tie into the lack of sports currently and because I recalled it being a solid film that has maybe become a little forgotten.

I got a little worried when the film begins deep in the past with a story suggesting it’s going to lean hard on the earnest tone that professional baseball and its fans frequently invoke about the noble game and tradition, especially as a proxy for American exceptionalism. (Football and its supporters do something similar while adding a healthy dose of militarism and war veneration.) If you like soaking in all that nostalgia, you can have it. I imagine I ate up that stuff as a kid in the time of Reagan, but a lot of it rubs me the wrong way now. Maybe it’s because I see wallowing in the good ol’ days deployed as a way of not addressing the present. As a Cincinnati Reds fan who has seen the franchise flog memories of the Big Red Machine while enduring more down years than up ones, I recognize the method of asserting past glories to distract from today’s shortcomings. I don’t object to remembering the past, but solemn reminiscences of how things used to be make me cringe.

Fortunately Hancock tends to dial back the most syrupy conventions sports filmmakers indulge. While this is unquestionably a feel-good movie aimed at a family audience, The Rookie is also clear-eyed about the lack of glamour involved in a mid-thirties pitcher nearly a decade removed from competition trying to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. An even tougher film could be made from this material, particularly in examining how this pursuit challenges the protagonist’s marriage, but as I’m pretty sure this is the version signed off on by its subject, The Rookie presents a credible look at the situation. Still, the end title mentioning how he played two seasons in MLB is technically true but extremely generous when time at the top level was closer to two months over two seasons.

I also suggested we do an episode featuring Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film (In film nist), which I first saw at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. I wasn’t being glib in pitching a movie made while the director was under house arrest by the Iranian government--his circumstances and the ones we’re currently under are not comparable, to be completely clear--but I thought it might be interesting to watch in light of staying at home far more often than not. 

What do you do when a defining part of how you live is inaccessible is the urgent question that emerges in This Is Not a Film. Artists feel compelled to create, and the title, which references Magritte, provides a cheeky denial that Panahi has violated the filmmaking ban imposed on him at this time. Again, his house arrest and staying at home during a pandemic are not at all equivalent, but the yearning to be able to resume what one loves doing and frustration in having it withheld is common between the experiences. 

Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing

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