Sunday, April 26, 2009

Broken Chair Reacts to Economic Crisis

My broken chair and I visited the Proteus Gowanus Fixers' Collective last Thursday. As I said in an earlier post, I wanted to repair the chair so it can do what it does best, which is offer people (and cats) a place to sit. This old rush-bottom chair, given to me by a member of my family, is special. It embodies the Platonic chairness of a chair, and when the rush-bottom chair broke last year, I wanted to repair it with my own hands.

More and more these days, I want to do things myself. I'm not alone. There's a green DIY movement out there: It's all about recycling, collaborating, and getting stuff for free.

So that's what I thought about last Thursday as my chair and I took the bus

and the subway
to the Proteus Gowanus gallery space at 543 Union St. in Brooklyn, feeling a little nervous before we entered. My poor little chair looked so vulnerable and broken.
To be honest, I liked the idea of doing a DIY repair on my chair, but I didn't think it would actually get fixed. I'm a cynic. Things fall apart, and you live with them that way.

Then I walked into the gallery and met David Mahfouda and Jan Drojarski, two master fixers. They're both artists and have a much different approach to fixing things than me, the hopeless and lazy cynic. David and Jan seek to displace cultural patterns that alienate us from our things by learning the skills and patience necessary to care for them.

But I can't express it the way they do. Here's the text from a Fixers' Collective postcard: "Intentionally aligning itself with forces generated in reaction to the current economic crisis, the Fixers' Collective promotes a counter-ethos that values functionality, simplicity, and ingenuity and that respects age, persistence and adequacy."

David Mahfouda (left) and Jacob Kramer, Fixers' Collective members

Wow. There is hope, after all. My chair and I had come to the right place. In their low-key way, Jan and David encouraged me to take the tools into my own hands and take on the challenge of fixing my chair myself.

Though Jan helped me (a lot). He went to furniture-making school and introduced me to the concepts of wood glue, epoxy and needle-nose pliers. And pushing and shoving things around a lot. DIY is a less exacting science than I'd originally thought. But it works.

Jan Drojarski, Fixers' Collective, and me (below). Smiling with success!

The chair is back home now, fixed and ready to offer a seat. My cat Maradona isn't interested, however. She doesn't recognize how perfectly chair-y and adequate the rush-bottom chair is.

Do You Want to Be a Fixer? Bring your broken stuff to the Proteus Gowanus Fixers' Collective's weekly Thursday workshops, where all manner of broken objecs will be offered up for collective consideration. You don't have to know anything, but you are requested to fill out an online form before you come. Just be willing to take chances and learn! Commercial exchange of skills do not play a part in the Collective, though bartering and donations are welcome.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"American Idol" vs. "Britain's Got Talent" = Bad Boy vs. Good Girl

This YouTube video of Susan Boyle, a contestant last Saturday night on "Britain's Got Talent" has gone insanely viral: 6 million hits and counting. She's a 47-year-old, never-been-kissed church singer from a Scottish village who lives with her cat, Pebbles.

The show, which is the UK's answer to "American Idol," also features Simon Cowell as a judge, and Ms. Boyle--a good girl if ever there was one--had him gobsmacked.

Compare her performance to that of bad boy Adam Lambert, nearly everybody's favorite contestant this year on American Idol. You know, Adam Lambert, he of the smokin' Elvis Presley eyes, David Bowie delivery and provocatively androgynous sexiness. (Not the greatest video quality. Sorry.)
So you be the judge: If the competition was between these two singers, who'd be the winner? And what do their performances and personalities say about the differences between the US and the UK?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cockroaches, Duct Tape & the Platonic Ideal

In my continuing quest to be good, I'm trying to do more home repairs. You know, DIY, do it yourself. Because it's frugal and virtuous and locapair (like locavore), i.e., not recently manufactured in China.


I'm not what you'd call a natural DIY-er, however. Though I do have about five hammers, and I'm not sure where they've all come from, they've just mysteriously appeared in my toolbox over the years. And I've bought a roll of duct tape and been introduced to the wonders of taping and caulk to reduce the cockroach population in my apartment. Just recently, I taped up the hole in my kitchen trash can and felt very proud of myself.

Sad, I know. But I'm on a mission to destroy cockroaches in my home. Which may not be a very good-girl thing to do, since it's so cruel. Last week, I mass-murdered an entire village of cockroaches that had somehow infested this trash can despite the duct tape. A friend tells me not to feel bad, though, because the cockroaches were evil people in their past life and were now suffering as miserable cockroaches, and by killing them I actually helped them move on to their next incarnation, where they'll live a redeemed existence inside a more noble creature's body.

But moving on to the Platonic ideal. According to Kidipede, the kids' history Web site, "Plato thought a lot about the natural world and how it works. He thought that everything had a sort of ideal form, like the idea of a chair, and then an actual chair was a sort of poor imitation of the ideal chair that exists only in your mind."

Now, I just happen to own a chair that so perfectly embodies the chairness of a chair, that I will never need to own another chair again. Plato's ideal chair (cat not included)

Unfortunately, this chair is so old and wooden and perfect that it's busted up in back.

As I mentioned, I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to DIY, but I love this chair so much that I really want to fix it. Luckily for me, I live in Brooklyn, where there's this art gallery called Proteus Gowanus that lets you bring broken stuff to a weekly workshop where you can try to learn how to be creative with DIY. How cool is that?

Here's what Proteus Gowanus says about their Fixers Collective: "The Fixers Collective is a social experiment in improvisational fixing and mending. Our goal is to increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives."

So now I have a DIY project in my future and an opportunity to be a better person. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Doing Something Well

I've always sneered at the idea of writer's block, thinking that it was only lazy writers who suffer. Now I'm the one suffering, so my sneer is no more. Funny how when something bad happens to me, all of a sudden I become more compassionate with other people's struggles.

That said, I'm a bad blogger and have contributed little to this blog. I'm still not sure what to say and not sure I can say it well. So I'll let someone else do the saying for now.

This is from E.B. White in The New Yorker:

I have no heroes, no saints. I do have a tremendous respect for anyone who does something extremely well, no matter what. I would rather watch a really gifted plumber than listen to a bad poet. I'd rather watch someone build a good boat than attend the launching of a poorly constructed play. My admirations are wide-ranging and are not confined to arts and letters.