The Joy of Little Things and Carrots, too

A viewer may be forgiven for thinking, after studying “Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life)” by Henri Matisse, that serious joy in life does not involve clothes.

by Douglas John Imbrogno | | march15.2020


About this time in the current coronavirus pandemic, many of us may be sheltering in place. Or even—and this phrase will doubtless be found in online dictionaries by the vernal equinox—’self-quarantining.’

Myself, I have what I believe is a sinus infection, depressing any joie de vivre. Of course, any respiratory hiccups these days are suspect as the world experiences an epidemiological tsunami, knocking down individuals and institutions, one-by-one.

Unfortunately for us Americans, we have a sniveling, orange, competency-free clown at the wheel of the Volkswagen of State.

Which is to say, if you (and please do) visit this blog next week to check in and notice a black-crepe banner of mourning across the homepage—wish me well on my next incarnation.

You, too, by the way.

With mortality pushed off-stage for a few moments, let’s consider joie de vivre.

In what Wikipedia describes as one of “various corruptions,” the phrase is sometimes seen in print as joie de vie.  This translates as “joy of life.” It goes without saying, joie de vie has been notable by its absence during Trump’s long, loooooong Reign of Error, speaking of ‘various corruptions.’ (Has it really been only three years?!)

And joie—pronounced like a mashup of the ‘Jean‘ in Jean-Luc Picard and ‘waah‘—certainly won’t be showing its face much during a deadly pandemic that went from zero to 100 in what seems like 60 seconds flat.

Nevertheless, we must persist.

If we cannot feel joy in daily pandemic life at the moment, perhaps we can find some teensy joys in our shut-down experiences. We’ll have to share them remotely, though, as another novel concept from the novel coronavirus reorganizes Life on Earth, and a phrase no one outside of germ-y circles knew two weeks ago—social distancing—is suddenly on everyone’s lips.

(But not perhaps on the lips of those who think CoViD-19—or the more fashionable COVID-19 for those who like CAPS—is some sort of hoax by the Democrats and Deep State. Yes, they exist.)

So, let’s examine the apparently correct French: joie de vivre. This suggests an exuberant state of being or—a lovely, if impossible, standard in what the Church calls this “vale of tears”— a ‘joy in everything.’

If that seems really, really unlikely, what about taking a small joy in something, as our lives telescope from the Commons and the hubbub of daily human interaction down to our living room couch.

A Smidgen of Uplift

A ’59|Seconds’ video encounter with a carrot truck, headed east this week on the interstate.

It’s true that joy is hardly on anyone’s mind at the moment, as we nervously, frightfully, and morbidly scan the news for the answer to ‘What in the world could be next?!?” But I feel like crap. And among my little joys to divert me from feeling grody are writerly rambles that explore digressions on a theme. You’re reading one. (I hope, still).

That, and digital fingerpainting via hypershort videos. I could go into a long explanation. But the debut of this new ’59|Seconds’ short video series (above) is self-explanatory.

Carrots. Meet. Truck.

This just happened earlier this week—an encounter with an 18-wheel, rolling exhibition of remarkable, mammoth carrot art.

I would like to tell you I had my smartphone safely mounted on my new camera dashboard mount. (Henceforth, I certainly will—and should you call me while driving you will receive the notice below, and if you don’t, please have me arrested.)

But for a guy who has a digital folder on his laptop slugged ‘Video B-Roll,’ encountering a carrot truck while driving the interstate to West Virginia’s capital city was, like …

Now, you’re going to think I am weird.

Okay, I’m going to say it.

It was cool.

That’s all I have to say about the carrot truck video. Except that there are two kinds of people in the world:

  • People Willing to Watch 59-Second Carrot-Truck Videos to the End.
  • People Un-willing to Watch 59-Second Carrot-Truck Videos to the End.

You know who you are. (I send to you, my dear Carrot-Video People, what the Italians call ‘un grande abbracio.’)

I will add that if you do watch the carrot truck tooling down the interstate, you’ll also enjoy 59 seconds of cool electronic music. It’s from a new sample pack by an EDM composer and DJ whom I recommend, Lucas the Flow.

I knew him before he got big. Quite literally.

Mask Movement Samples is offering Lucas the Flow’s new collection of sounds that reflect —and you’ll reveal your age by the number of the following musical genres you have not a clue about—”Glitch Hop, Neuro, Hip-Hop, Dubstep, Trap, and other similar electronic music genres.”

As a proud, if occasionally musically bewildered, greying folk singer-songwriter, I take pleasure in the following description of these original electronic riffs for use by other composers and DJs, by an offspring whose electronic sounds can now be found on about 20 labels around the world:

“[It’s] packed full of sharp and quality drum loops, reese basslines, gnarly synths, abstract atmospheric pads & loops + an essential collection of one-shot drums and experimental effects.”

A admit it. I haven’t the faintest notion what a “reese” bassline is—a long-haired bass player eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup comes to mind. But this being a digressive essay, Google supplies the goods:

“Originally heard on Kevin Saunderson’s ‘Just Want Another Chance’, the ‘Reese’ bass sound became a staple of jungle when Ray Keith and Gavin Cheung sampled it for ‘Terrorist’ by Renegade. It’s been a mainstay of drum and bass and dubstep for years and it’s still a great way of adding a dirty, aggressive edge to tracks in just about any other genre.”

Excuse me, but I am still stuck back on “gnarly snyths,” which would make a great name for a character in a sci-fi movie:

“Gnarly Synth gazed out the port of his rocket at the sands of Mars, receding into the distance like an ochre ocean …”

It’s a Carrot Thing

“What To Do With a Bag of Carrots in West Virginia” in 100 seconds. |

It truly didn’t come to me until just now. But I have a whole body of hypershort carrot-video work. Back when I was hopelessly trying to foresee the future of the news industry (or at least stick a finger in the dike leaking readers that was about to burst statewide and everywhere), I evangelized my newsroom on the wonders of multimedia.

If you shoot it, they will come!

Readers. Hit counts. Money.

Trust me.

It was an utter failure. I partly blame Mark Zuckerberg, who could have injected a huge infusion of cash into ailing news operations worldwide, had he shared the wealth from the—literally—hundreds of thousands of views even our small newsroom generated for videos uploaded to Facebook.

Don’t get me started.

But it was also a huge bet gone bad, career-wise. I spent a dozen years futzing around with feature videos before there was an audience for them. Maybe there still isn’t, outside of YouTube or maybe Funny or Die.

That’s a digression for another day. But I did learn how to shoot, edit, score and upload videos faster than a short-order grill cook in the Bronx can turn out cheeseburgers.

One of my bright ideas at the newspaper was “100 Second Videos.” I did a whole series of them for the Charleston Gazette and Gazette-Mail’s website and Facebook page. Some of them got decent views.

Like, 25,000. And 45,000.

Not a one of them made a dime for the newspaper. They probably made several dimes for Zuck, who hardly needs any more silver. I’m not bitter or anything. (But, really, man, is it not time for a new haircut?!?)

One of my personal favorites from the “100 Second” series—and possibly the finest work in my carrot-video oeuvre—is the one above: “What To Do With a Bag of Carrots in West Virginia.”

I am happy to report that this carrot video had a life-after-Zuckerberg-ate-it. This video was featured in the 2016 “100-Second Festival,” showcasing short films and videos from around the world. It was screened that year in Massachusetts at an Exhibition of International Super Short Films.

I was not there. It seemed a stretch to drive hundreds of miles and get a hotel room—and all for 100 seconds of fame. Andy Warhol said we’d all be world-famous for 15 minutes. And it is the future, and all. But, no. All I got was 100 seconds.

And even less, nowadays. There’s a reason Facebook’s behind-the-scenes video metrics rate your work on how many ‘3-second views‘ and ‘10-second views‘ your video gets.

10 seconds, man. That’s a lifetime on a social media timeline.

Which is why I’ve shaved 41 seconds off my hypershort videos these days, with the debut of this new “59|Seconds” video series. I’m now aiming—and yes, this is a real thing—to get into The 60 Second Film Festival,  whose tagline is: “Anything Can Happen Inside a Minute.”

Because, you know, in the future—the one that has actually come to be— everyone will be world-famous for at least 60 seconds.

PS: The soundtrack to “What To Do With a Bag of Carrots in West Virginia” is another piece of music by Lucas the Flow, an excerpt of his “Centerall,” featuring N8. Check out the full version at 

PSS: It’s not child labor if it’s your child’s labor, right?

Furiouser and Furiouser

We now interrupt these bemused digressions, to touch base with a traumatized world. I do realize I am probably being too cute by half as an historic pandemic kills thousands, destroys livelihoods, and probably drives the world into a recession from which many people, countries, cities and industries will have a hard time exiting, if ever in the lifetime of anyone old enough to read this post.

I am about as alarmed and furious as you are, probably. The Trumpublican Party, its media enablers and the Shelob in the White House (the original was “the greatest offspring of Ungoliant, the primordial spider”) are in the process of likely sealing the doom of tens of thousands of Americans, forget the entire economy.

I just concluded Rachel Maddow’s interview with acclaimed AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho, part of a Columbia University research team now focusing its considerable brainpower on the search for antiviral drugs that might combat the the COVID-19 coronavirus.

But—thanks to President Shelob and his enablers, who are still largely in denial even as some who poo-pooed the crisis are in quarantine—we still do not know the scope of the grief and suffering coming our way. And antiviral drugs, much less a vaccine, are months, if not more than a year away, as He Who Shall Not Be Named worried about his numbers.

Heck, that jokey squib is past its due date and soaking wet. Let’s call a pathologically self-centered jerk a jerk. Trump and his minions have stonewalled testing and “without testing you’re blind,” as Ho told Maddow.

Then, in a heat-seeking missile aimed straight at the White House, he said: “If you don’t have any test you don’t have any cases.” Or, as a Twitter meme put it, just to underline the point: “Can’t have a coronavirus outbreak if you can’t test for coronavirus …”

It’s at this point I wish to start typing a salty drunken sailor’s worth of expletives directed toward the Commander-in-Chief, which my dear, departed, curse-hating mother would revolve in her crypt to see.

So, I won’t. I will only say let’s look out for each other in a way he is not.

So let’s talk about Falstaff, instead.

Joie Is Good

We did start this ramble many paragraphs ago with joie de vivre, after all. As usual, looking something up online for me is a sure slide down the slippery slope into a pleasant diversion of digressions, if you’re that sort of person. (I really need a 12-Step group, Digressions Anonymous.)

NOTABLE DIGRESSIONS: I point you to what may be the highlight of my digression career from a recent photo-essay—a 25-paragraph left turn into lychee fruit. I’m proud of it, in an addict’s sort of way.

Most audiences find Shakespeare’s Falstaff a real joie de vivire kind of guy. Sir John Falstaff is a mostly comic character known for his high spirits, even if he spends a good portion of his Shakespearian career drinking spirits with lowlifes at the Boar’s Head Tavern. Orson Welles, who played Falstaff in his 1966 film, “Chimes at Midnight,” considered the big-bellied figure one of the Bard’s “greatest creations.”

QUICK DIGRESSION (Courtesy of my college English prof Rich Erlich): Theatre folklore has it that Welles was the only actor in theatre history—they spell it with an ‘re‘ just to piss off Americans—who had to lose weight to play Falstaff.

Which is worth pausing over—Welle’s evaluation of Falstaff, not his weight issues.

Having just served as the opening musical act at a local production of Shakespeare’s bloodiest, arguably darkest play, “Titus Andronicus”—and living in an age of rampant virus and viral stupidity—I could use a little uplift at the moment, comic or otherwise.

(‘Twas a fine play, although—wimp that I am—I could only handle the bloody rape scene’s aftermath one night of the three-night run. I headed home the second night after my half-hour set, and ducked out for a veggie burger until the second act on the third night.)

“Falstaff mit großer Weinkanne und Becher” (Falstaff with big wine jar and cup, 1896) by German painter Eduard von Grützn

But I do like the fact that Welles considers this exuberant fellow the very best of Shakespeare’s many, many characters. We need people who persist, persevere and lift spirits—if not high, then higher than they are, even if they are literary. And maybe a little tipsy.

(AA-responsible intervening note to the Sir Johns of the world, whose lives have gone all topsy-turvy from intoxicants. The first step—I am both kidding and not kidding, being sober seven years this July 4—is admitting you have a problem from your intoxicant of choice. Mine was this.)

But joie is good. Most especially when the news will have none of it.

“Le Petit Robert,” a popular and authoritative single-volume dictionary of the French language, defines “joie” as ‘sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience.’ Meaning—for someone who needed to look all this up—that it involves one’s whole being.

So, here’s my question to you, if you are already feeling cabin fever, or expect you will soon, as society hits the brakes and hits them hard.

What do you do with your whole being, something that brings you joy and might help you get yourself through socially distant self-quarantining?

Do that.

(And do tell in the comments section below)

Droning It In

“DRONING IT IN: A Portrait of the Artist” video clocks in at 1:21 minutes.

Here’s one more hypershort video for the road. Earlier this year, I joined the design team of Tamarack Foundation for the Arts. We’re in the process of creating multimedia profiles of five Emerging Artists from cross West Virginia. (Here’s more on this wildly divergent, creative group.)

It’s a cool gig, especially since I get to work with some serious talent, including the watercolor artist shown above, Jes Reger of Wheeling, WV, and videographer Braiden Maddox of Lady Mountain Films.

Braiden is a seasoned drone photographer. The short video above documents how she uses them in one of her shoots (while also giving you a flavor of my run-and-gun, smartphone, lo-fi video shooting.)

A word about drones. If you’ve never had a drone hang six feet away from your face at eye level, they can be seriously creepy and alarming. A cousin’s husband is a way-good droneographer (If that isn’t a word, it should be. Oh, wait. Of course, it is. Or at least, ‘droneography‘ is.) He shoots gorgeous drone footage of Nature set to music.

But when he brought the drone to eye level and it, like … eyed us, it was intimidating. Small aircraft, big discomfort. You can focus a drone on an image of your car, he said, and it will follow it wherever you go.

So, yeah, there’s an apocalyptic side to drones.

But put one in the hands of an artist like Braiden, photographing an artist like Jes, and you get what you see at the back end of the video above.

Poetry in motion.

In less than 100 seconds, to boot.

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