Monday, December 12, 2011

Cultural Calorie Count

Santey, does this guitar music make me look fat?
A few weeks ago, storyteller, folk singer and cowboy historian of the Southwest (and my favorite Santa Claus) Tony Norris asked me if culture is "hi-caloric."  It was just one of those questions that I adore, a real conversation starter.

Tony, I've been wrapping my head around it for a couple of weeks now.

Last week I went to my the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy's (FALA) holiday dance and music performance to see my son perform in his ballroom dance group and jazz band.  It was the end of a really long, tiresome day.  I had been stamping out fires and my toes were singed.

But I got to the performance at 7 p.m., sat next to one of my best and oldest friends, and settled in for 3 hours of beautiful dancing and creative, talented musicians (it is, after all, an art school.)  Everything was pleasing to the eye, well-performed, and different.  It was one of those perfect foods--it tasted good, it was easily digestible, and it made me feel wonderful.  After the performance, my son looked like he had eaten spinach--he was wide-eyed and energetic.

I really started thinking about beauty and food.  For some reason, everything that makes me happy and is beautiful makes me say "yummy!"  If I see the cutest, chubbiest, happiest baby, I metaphorically want to take a bite out of her apple cheeks to show my appreciation. (Please understand, this is all in a good, loving way.)  My kitties, who are so cute, also make me say crazy things, like "I'm going to eat you up and serve you for breakfast."  When I saw the total lunar eclipse on Saturday, I wanted to devour the landscape, because it was so poignantly beautiful and meaningful in some way that I wanted to keep inside me, for a long time.  As an interesting aside, Hindus believed that a serpent or a demon was eating the sun or moon when they were eclipsed.

Why do we often use food and eating as a metaphor for things that have great meaning for us?!

A lot of people (mostly Italian) see something of beauty or taste something delicious, and make a similar gesture--putting their fingers to their mouths and noisily kissing them.  I think this gesture of bringing something intangible to your mouth and kissing it is a great way of showing appreciation.  Consumption of food makes us feel good, too, just like viewing and participating in art does.  It fills us.  It gives us nourishment.

I would say that the FALA performance was pretty nourishing too.  It made me feel a huge sense of connection, because the "food" was locally-grown and produced, and it was designed to fit the needs of the community that it fed.  It was pretty filling, and the calories were well-spent.  Everything was gourmet, high-energy, and satisfying.

And so, Tony, I have no idea if "culture" in general is high in calories, but I do know that it is essential to growth and development, just like good food.  When we see beauty, and it touches us, we want to integrate it into our cells.  We want to have it pervade our flesh.  We want it to infuse our spirit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living off Laughter

It's almost the end of the semester, and the end of the year.  People are burning the candle at both ends.  Everywhere I look, students, faculty and staff are red-eyed from lack of sleep.  Tempers are a little short.  Everything's due, all at once.

I think I can say with confidence that this time of year can be very stressful.

With all this stress, I think that the College of Arts and Letters Film Series made a very wise choice to screen "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" as the last film of the semester.  A very full audience packed the house last night at Cline Library.  We weren't there for a political, thoughtful, enlightening or educational movie.

We were there to laugh, gol-danggit!!

It was easy to laugh.  The character of Pee-Wee had simple goals and simple needs.  His wasn't a complicated, emotional character.  He had a quest--he needed to find his beloved bike. (I can totally identify with this.  It's the worst feeling in the world to have your bike stolen.)  He had an enemy--the one-dimensional rich kid brat, Francis.  He was never alone, even in his loneliest moments, and never at a loss for words, especially funny one-liners.

Best of all, he had a fireman's pole in his house.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure also had some of my favorite movie tropes:  A breakfast-making machine line, a CLASSIC movie set chase scene, and, my favorite, a dance designed to be so absolutely funky and cool that the hero inexplicably wins over his worst enemies. (In Pee-Wee's case, it's a barful of bikers.  In Napoleon Dynamite's case, it's an auditorium full of high-schoolers.  In The Revenge of the Nerds, it's about beating the Alpha Betas.)  Warner Bros. even turns Pee-wee's life in a full-length film.  

People, this was pure comedy entertainment.  We were all just there to laugh at stuff again and lighten up.  It was pure movie pleasure, childish and immature, and all of a sudden the busy schedules and stressful classes didn't seem to matter so much.

Maybe you can't live on laughter alone, but it sure makes the rest of your life that much easier.