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Cultural Detox

January 1, 2008

I tend to overdo it when it comes to culture. If I had my way, I'd have limitless time and income so I could experience all the amazing arts happenings that this area has to offer and travel to catch interesting events in other parts of the world the rest of the time. But given that I have limited resources, that it's easy to suffer burn-out from rushing around doing stuff every night of the week after a full day of work, and that I want to spend a portion of my time doing things like creating rather than consuming art, and simply sitting and staring into space, I need to find ways to manage the frenzy.

So I was delighted to see that The Times newspaper just published a list of tips to prevent cultural overload in 2008. I read the article eagerly hoping for some insights into how to better navigate my way through the deluge of plays, books, ballets, movies, television shows, talks, readings, concerts and art exhibitions etc. this year. Unfortunately, the article left me feeling disappointed.

The Times' Cultural Detox strategy is "to split the wheat from the chaff...not to do less, but to do better." This is a great idea in principle, but in practice it's very hard to do. Far from relieving the problem of cultural overload, some of the ideas in the article actually make it worse. For example, leveraging the "rare pearls" of the Internet to help you make better decisions about what cultural events to experience is fine if you can find one or two trusted sources upon which to rely. But there are so many equally wonderful sites to go to on the Web that the mind boggles just thinking about them all. The article similarly suggests avoiding cultural atrophy by exploring "the wealth of African literature", "Romania’s new wave of cinema" and obscure radio stations found via iTunes. These are super ideas, but hardly a solution for preventing overload. To my mind, they just serve to underline the enormous gaps in my cultural repertoire.

Other suggestions on The Times' list, such as engaging with shorter works (eg short story collections, short films etc) to prevent "being knackered by art" and going to more arts events solo to engender quality time with the work rather than wasting the experience "by having a good chinwag as you blithely mosey past a priceless set of previously unseen Caravaggios" are absurd. For one thing, just because a work of art is short, doesn't mean it's less tiring (I've seen several plays lately that run at only an hour in length but feel three times as long). For another, art is an inherently social experience. Rather than not taking a friend along, I'd advocate for the "together apart" approach, where you basically stick together but don't necessarily talk your way through the museum.

The most sensible idea on The Times' list is the one that suggests skiving off work to avoid long queues at exhibitions. Being a freelancer, I don't personally have to deal with this problem, but I totally endorse the strategy for anyone stuck in an office from 9-5 (as long as you don't get fired.)

The strategy I'm planning on adopting this year is simple and can be summarized in four words: Consume Less Create More. This mental rather than practical plan revolves around feeling OK with the knowledge that I can't possibly experience a fraction of what there is to offer in the Bay Area, let alone beyond. In short, staying at home the night of a big premiere to work on one of my own creative projects is cool -- as long as I'm not required to write about it for work.

Of course, this being January 1, I'm full of good intentions. Addictions are hard to kick. And there is the small matter of feeding the beast that is this blog. I need stuff to write about. I suppose at the end of the day it's all about maintaining a good balance.


  • It's enough to make your head explode isn't it?

    Your blog is the first I have read rather consistently.
    I don't know how you do it every day, I certainly could not, and may I suggest you give yourself a break. Every other day...or less? Less is more.

    I'll read one of your essays and think about it for days. I want to read the next one but not until I have thought through, dwelled on, farted around with, the one that is still bothering me to come up with my own response. Not that I have to have a response to all your blogs but, actually, I often do want to. I don't always write it, but it sometimes travels through my body at an energy that I have to get out. Somehow. We do keep so much to ourselves, don't we? We are over stimulated but under expressed? I don't know.

    The myriad diversions vying for our attention could, if we let them, keep us in a perpetual purgatory of passive response. How often do we hide behind our computers whilst imagining we are brave as we serve a virtual community. Where have all the bodies gone? I lost my place. Pause.

    It is fun to talk to you, a stranger, from my protective shell. An honor. And may I respectfully suggest you slow down. Take off your socks and contemplate your feet. You might be bored at first but oh...after you get through all that muck - what might happen then?

    Consume Less Create More. Yes Yes Yes Yes

    Bravo. Great blog. Don't stop, just slow down. Think about your next bite of food. What is it, really, and how did it get to you? And what will it do to you? We are, someone said, what we eat. Through our mouth, eyes, ears. skin...feet.

    Walk on,

    mr. stick

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 3, 2008 at 9:59 AM  

  • Thanks for the good advice, Mr. Stick. I will try to heed it. Queenie.

    By Blogger Chloe Veltman, At January 3, 2008 at 1:02 PM  

  • I have been searching on amazon for a good book to help me with my diet. In the end I googled it and found this site

    They are giving away a free ebook called "365 tips for healthy living". I didn't expect it to be any good because it's free but it's actually brilliant so I thought i'd share it here :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 9, 2010 at 6:22 AM  

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