This week I was looking at an artist opportunity in America, part of which includes one month staying alone in a remote cabin without electricity or running water. For some reasons I’m really intrigued by this kind of thing right now.
For most of my life, I think I’ve subconsciously felt that cities were sort of the the de facto best places to live. I grew up in a small town where nothing was ever happening. Most of the businesses, events, infastrcuture, were built for tourists. The closest city (Boston) was about an hour and a half away. And that sort of grew my hunger to be in a city. Then during college I also lived in a small town, but with close proximity to New York City, and where I only visited Boston in my home town maybe once a year, I spent many if not most college weekends in NYC. This sampling grew my interest in Urban space even more, but I was still just a visitor. Since being in Athens I now see what it’s like to live in a city and of course its somewhat different.
All of the advantages of a city are here. There’s stuff happening all the time. There’s art events. If I want to get some odd material for an art project I can go and find it in the city in person and browse rather than ordering it online for double the price. And now I see the downsides to a city as well. I can’t quite pick out exactly what it is I’m missing from rurality, but its something. It’s not just nature because you can find nature, it’s not just solitude because you can find that in droves, even isolation. There’s just something different about a small town. There’s something slower, more familiar.
And there’s something magical about nature that doesn’t exactly have a start and end. Not a park, or a sectioned forest, but just nature, that you live in, and explore. Nature that’s so big that you would never thing to wander through the “whole thing”. There is no whole thing, it’s just continuing nature as far as you can percieve.
I suppose part of this is also about missing America. I was saying to my Mom the other day on the phone that I’m pining for this “real” America that I never actually knew. I have this magnetic attraction towards the midwest and northwest. As I’ve said before I have some imaginary idea that they are places with artists, but also I’m seeing now that I’m craving the rurality of it.
And to some extent this dichomoty of needs I have for Urbanity and Rurality is reflected in parallel ways throughout my life.
I want to talk for a bit about notebooks:
A couple years ago I started carrying around a small notebook in my pocket all the time. It’s as ubiquitous as my phone and wallet. I use it to write stuff down, to sketch, or explain a concept to someone on paper. The notebook to me is this nucleus of physical, “Analog” tools (See Note on Analog). I use an immense amount of digital tools in my work, but like many artists, I find that physical tools like a notebook still have a sort of magical quality to them. An inexplicable ability to draw out a different aspect of your thinking. There’s also a novel but fascinting quality of physical tools, which is that they’rey actually physical. I find myself constantly using pages from my notebook to level tables, wipe or pick something up, spit out gum, even to fix things. Physical tools take up dimensional space, inches, feet, grams, pounds. They must be selected, brought, found, and held. Therefore they require more delegation than digital tools, more choice. Digital tools are accessed through a homogenous interface, and exist as content alone. (*see note on digital tools)
And I see in a way this opposition between physical and digital tools as a mirror of the opposition between urbanity and rurality. It’s new vs old. Developed vs raw. Evolved vs. Primitive. And I find that I belong to a certain, growing subset of people who are stretched intensly between these two worlds, in love with both of them, and switching constantly between the two. I so often come across programmers and digital artists who spend their days working entirely digital, and are at the same time deeply interested in rurality and the absence of technology, working with physical tools, and the spiritual nature of living without technology. These people are simultaneously far more invested in both technology, and the lack of it, than your average person.
My question is how exactly the two can fit together. Urbanity and Rurality, technofuturism and primitivism, there must be a solution to emulsify the two concepts rather than to simply jump back and forth between the two. Maybe Pirsig has come closest to a solution in “Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance”, Suggesting that maintenance and creation of technology and mechanics can themselves be a meditation practice. I’m still not sure exactly how to practice this. And maybe the real answer is that they don’t need to be truly combined, rather simply balanced in freqeuncy in everyday life.
Note on the word “Analog”
Note on digital tools
This doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the writing but also thinking about all the funny ways in which digital tools recreate and mimic physical ones. Digital tools take up measurable “space” that we manage in digital storage. Because of this we now manage two domains of space, on physical and one digital. I would wager the digital one is much larger and easier to store a lot of junk in. Also I see now how my hard drive is the messy room of my digital life. The bridge between physical and digital here is capital. It’s something transferred from the physical world converted to digital. But even now capital is digitized (although it can always be exchanged for physical notes or goods). And there also exists a paradigm which I myself have experienced where digital currency runs in a fully closed circuit, IE: I used software to create digital goods for someone, which they paid me for digitally (paypal etc.) and then I used that money to buy digital software goods, meaning that the entire cycle never interacted with the physical world.