Who are you letting into your head these days?
Which writers, voices, artists and directors do you invite into your brain?
Though still enthusiastic, I am more careful and selective than ever.
You are what you eat, read, watch and listen to.
You know... that whole thing.
Thankfully, there is so much interesting writing, music, film and other visual work to dive into.
We're all looking for ways to discover valuable information and art,
so I thought I'd do my part by sharing the best of what I find along the way.
In addition to posting discoveries, I will also be writing essays of my own here on the blog.
Here are some discoveries and ideas I'd like to share this week:
The novel The Plague by french writer/philosopher Albert Camus is currently making an understandable comeback. However, if you find it a bit heavy diving into a plague book in the current atmosphere, but would love the insight it may provide, I want to point you towards The School of Life.
No, I'm not sending you to the "School of Hard Knocks" at the fringes of the Facebook commentary section. This is the actual School of Life, a digital haven, founded by philosopher Alain de Botton.
Through hundreds of short videos on books, writers and philosophy you can get condensed versions of complex art and thoughts. Some will give you a quick fix of knowledge. Others will spark further curiosity and make you want to read the book itself, as de Botton prepares you for what the pages carry – like here from his take on The Plague:
Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition.” Plague or no plague, there is always, as it were, the plague, if what we mean by that is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless.
This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.
Writer/director Julio Gambuto has written a text on "gaslighting", which is defined as "manipulation into doubting your own sanity". The essay deals with the coming bombardment on your brain, as companies will spend enormous sums to become the brands that make you feel well, comfortable and provide you with a sense of normalcy again. In addition, politicians – especially a certain someone living in the White House – will take their fairy-telling abilities to whole new heights in
"the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman".
How will corona be portrayed in history?
Who will own that story? Biff Tannen?
We are already swimming in a pool of this man's bullshit on a daily basis,
but seeing the amount of people willing to gobble it up, there will be a continuous need
for loud and clear reminders of his complete failure as a leader – and human being.
Read the full essay here.
Also noteworthy concerning the current leader of the free world:
Who would have thought we would live to see the day when a mainstream US newspaper like USA TODAY writes this about an American president: «Oversight erased, Supreme Court hijacked: Trump turns the presidency into a dictatorship»
Doesn't it all make you miss... just, those innocent days of December 2019, carelessly drinking a perfect Danish apple glühwein? Like this one, at the Cafe Fleuri in Odense.
For some more entertaining quarantine interviews, I recommend Larry David in the New York Times "Master of his quarantine" interview, with insights into the current life and brain of Mr Curb Your Enthusiasm:
Mr. David ventures out for solo walks in the deserted neighborhood. “I cross the street when I see someone coming, like I used to do when I was a kid in Brooklyn and the Italian kids would shake me down for change,” he said. “And when someone crosses first, I know I shouldn’t take it personally but I can’t help it. How dare they?”
And while Mr David has his own take on solitude, The New Yorker has this piece on what astronauts and submarine crews can teach us about... yes, isolation.
One key take-away from the article is the section on how NASA trains astronauts to “be aware of how things are impacting on you, and then to take proactive steps not to let stress get too high.”
This is obviously important in our own current isolation, and also relates to what I started this post with. Everything that we let into our brains – news, tv series, music, Facebook likes (or the absence of them), comments, or a frightened friend on the phone – has an impact on us. It is therefore very much up to what we select to hear and consume – and how we process the incoming information – that will define how we're able to deal with the situation. That means we also have to be highly aware of what we ourselves say and present to others, since that again will have an impact on them:
“How do we pull on the previous experiences we’ve had with adversity?” Tom asked. “How do we draw strength from others around us as they post different ideas? How do we share with others how we’re handling it, to help strengthen them?”
You can follow up on that by reading this essay in The Guardian, which opens with this line:
Hannah Arendt once wrote that in times of deep crisis “we have a right to expect illumination”.
If that sounds intriguing, the title of the essay is
"After coronavirus, the penny has dropped that wellbeing isn't individual but social"
Rolling Stone has just written an article on how record stores are struggling. Corona may for many be the nail in the coffin. This does not come as a big surprise, since most small businesses driven more by enthusiasm than by hunting for profit are an endangered species now; local record stores, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, clothing stores, etc. To me they are a vital part of what makes a community worth living in, so this is yet another reminder of what we stand to lose with so many threatened of going under.
Some things we can do about it:
In Oslo, the good folks at Big Dipper are doing home deliveries.
If your local record store isn't offering that delivery service, give them the idea.
If you don't have a vinyl record player, this could be a good time to get one.
Stores like Big Dipper also carry record players, and you'll get knowledgeable help from guys who know their stuff. For many, life will be going slower for a long time, so this could be the opportunity to dive into the fantastic "lost art of deep listening". It will be worth it.
Some musicians set up digital concerts before others had even managed to think the thought "I need toilet paper, and a lot of it." One guy who is pushing the boundaries of experimenting with the medium is composer, drummer and tech wizard Peter Baden. Through the Oslo-based Brakkesyke, he's doing multiple live-streams on top of each other, as numerous musicians jam on top of his beats from their own homes. Add the odd fire alarm, a high risk of burning the house down as he cobbles his space ship together and mix it with top notch musicianship, and you have quite a scene that should be interesting to watch in the time ahead.
And if all that listening to good music makes you feel hungry, look to what these fine people are doing in San Francisco to support their local chefs and restaurants at tryoneplate.
This is a purely Norwegian reading tip. My very funny buddy Egil Aslak Hagerup released the book I tilfelle dommedag last fall. It's a non-fiction book on how to be best prepared for, well, exactly something like we're experiencing now. He released it last fall. Below is a picture of Norway's Minister of Justice, who posted herself reading his book at the start of Norway's lockdown. You don't get much better endorsement than that.
While we are on the subject of corona and female leadership, Forbes just posted an essay with this title: What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders.
Imagine lining up the female leaders in that article next to a line-up of Trump, Johnsen, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Jinping, etc... If Hollywood ever decides to reboot The little rascals, where the boys have become old, evil and pathetic – they have their cast right here.
Finally, before we enter a doomsday free escapist section of this post: If you need one more quick fix of doomsday, let me direct you to a video report I did for Norwegian newspaper VG. I visited a guy in Los Angeles who makes luxury doomsday bunkers for the wealthy. Because, you know, an apocalypse "has to be comfortable". My report is from a few years back, but I think there still could be some entertainment value here.
Here is something of an oddball tip for traveling somewhere far away in your mind. Allow me to introduce you to “Count” Victor Lustig. Remember the movie Catch Me If You Can? Lustig is that kind of real-life scoundrel, but on a level quite of his own. This is the guy who schemed so well, he managed to sell the Eiffel Tower. Twice. Dive into Paris of 1930's and this wild story from the Smithsonian Magazine archives on an international man of mystery...
I haven't gotten around to watching The Plot Against America yet, so I can't personally recommend that yet. However, I loved the book and my expectations are immense.
However, what I can advise you to do, is to watch this absolutely bonkers documentary on Netflix: Operation Odessa.
If you've found something of value in this blog post, I'd be thankful if you consider sharing this post – or my music – with other people who might like it.
if you'd like to connect.
About Andreas Ihlebæk
I'm a Norwegian composer, pianist, writer, editor, director and TV host living in Oslo.
I'm signed to classical label Naxos Records, where my new piano album Northern Lullabies is set for physical release in US & Germany in May. I compose music for TV/Film/Theatre and write songs for/with numerous artists. As a writer I have written on popular culture, classical music and politics for the top Norwegian magazines and newspapers, and also contribute as non-fiction editor for Pilar / Strawberry Publishing. Having lived for long periods in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Hamburg (Germany), as well as traveling extensively as a writer, musician and television director, I stumbled into hosting two TV series on travel & food for Matkanalen (the "Norwegian Food Network"). Oh, and I'm a certified Santa Claus from the Howard Santa School in Michigan.