Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Blank Slate: Time, Narrative, and the Body

Just so we're clear, the genesis of my thoughts here was this article regarding Renee Zellweger's "new face." I really didn't want to post anything about this, because, on the one hand, I don't think anyone's face or body should be up for our judgment. But I realized, as I was typing a response to a friend's link (on Facebook) on the subject, that I had an awful lot on my mind about the subject, so I thought I'd bring this here. First, some thoughts from the article by Frances McDormand: "Something happened culturally," the proudly wrinkled actress, 57, recently raged to the New York Times. "No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face. . . [My husband] literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who've had work. I'm so full of fear and rage about what they've done." So I bristle a little when anyone carps about people dressing like teenagers, since I'm still fundamentally mistrustful of people who tuck their shirts in as a matter of course, or who shave every day; being willing to age doesn't mean you have to give up advertising what sets you on fire. But her point, by and large, is spot on. We don't want our bodies to tell our stories anymore. Look ... the only appropriate response to what appears to be (though I grant it may not be) conspicuous cosmetic surgery is to ignore it, because to acknowledge the event is to feed the machine that makes the event possible, probable, all but necessary--the machine that says we are our appearances, and that the appearance of people in the public eye, and most especially women in the public eye, is our business. Even the frightened assertions that it looks "nothing" like her (and I do, it must be said, have a hard time recognizing the Zellweger I have seen in the relatively few of her movies I've viewed [because I really only ever kinda sorta liked her acting]) seem to imply, perhaps without meaning to, that she has an obligation to remain recognizable. Surely her agent prefers that, but I'm not sure that it's our business. And yet ... well, let me re-gather, re-phrase. What I mourn is not a face, and certainly not anyone's youth. And as someone who is adamantly for body modifications like tattoos and piercings (I'd be covered in all of the above if I had the money and no casting concerns), I have to be a little careful about how I look at modifications. I do feel, though, a twinge of regret that we, as a culture, no longer let these flawed and inevitably degenerating bodies tell our stories, that the miles don't get to settle into our skin and bones. Modifications that augment the story or add "supertext" strike me--perhaps arbitrarily; might make for an interesting discussion of its own--as different from those that actually seem designed to cover the narrative, to cover the tracks that time and life have left across the body. Realizing that I speak from a place of white, male privilege, I'm not sure I could abide a body that didn't carry some history on it, that didn't wear, somewhere on its surfaces (though maybe not on surfaces that everyone will get to see) the history of my martial arts and performance and exercise and stage combat; my adolescent self-mutilation or my post-adolescent suicide attempts; my postpunk/post-punk, late-Romantic, [G/g]nostic, Celtic, pantheistic obsessions as expressed in my ink; and so on. I wish we could give ourselves the gift of a paradigm of public life wherein crones and shamans and lunatics could flaunt their mileage.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Accidental Platonist

It could be said that I wouldn't be writing here at all were I not suffused with some sort of melancholia, but feeling robust enough that I could bother taking it public. But rather than plumb the details of this melancholia (the origins and nature of which are probably as elusive to me as they might be to you), I'm instead going to focus on something that's striking me just at this moment: that my dissatisfaction with myself implies that I do hold some idealized notion of what self is; that my dissatisfaction with the world, with art, with friends (or shortage thereof--not to discount those who remain loyal, supportive, and ever at my side), with religion likewise implies an ideal world, a perfect art, a perfect notion of [P/p]latonic friendship to which the real should conform (though it may never actually attain such heights).

What interests me, here, is that as a self-proclaimed nihilist--even a self-proclaimed ethical nihilist--I've essentially denied the existence of Platonic ideals (though not all small "p" platonic ideals; hence the grammatical chicanery above, wherein I allow both the existence of platonic friendship--that is, friendship without eros--and, grudgingly, of Platonic friendship, or perfect, ideal friendship). Good and beauty have no objective existence; they're constructs we impose on what is. And for good reason: What is will not likely organize itself into what's useful and edifying if we don't impose our "arbitrary" limitations on it. But once you assume that good and beauty exist independently of what we feel or agree is beautiful, or that love is something other than a collection of responses, agreements, and sacrifices, you assert, by default, that there is theos, or deity.

I'm not necessarily holding this out to any of my Christian readers (I do have 'em), though I'm not exactly withholding it from them either; it's safe to say that they would answer, "Well, YEAH!" Not that they'd admit to being Platonists (they tend to hate it when you suggest that Judeo-Christian conceptions of God tend to combine Greek pantheism with Greek anthropomorphic theist mythology), but they'd suggest my "accidental Platonism" is some whisper of the divine in my ear. Indeed, I may not be looking for an answer at all. Hell, I don't even know what the question is.

What I find interesting, I guess, is that for all my claims, I am still both driven forward and held back by the notion that there is a better me--gentler, kinder, more consistent, more potent, less selfish, less frantic, less insecure, a better artist, a better husband, a better son, a better mentor, a better student, a better friend, a better being--and that this better me will live a better life--more edifying, more focused, more altruistic, more moral (whatever we take that to mean). Driven forward because the desire to improve, to reach these ideal conditions, gives me reason to function (because function, when I'm down, is very, very difficult); held back because I have a blinkered view that keeps me from seeing alternate paths, alternate states or conditions that might be equal to, even preferable to, the notions to which I've chosen to devote myself.

I think even a radical individualist must be a Platonist, to some degree. Once you've defined the ideal condition of "individualism," you've already lost the battle. If, as an ethical nihilist, I believe that we must invent our own ideals (being presented with nothing but raw chaos, punctuated by random pockets of order, by the universe itself), then I'm suggesting that we must still, like Plato himself, hold that there are conditions transcendent to the real to which the real should aspire.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

American Wulver

Just thought I'd share a few shots from American Wulver, the solo show I've been working on over the last several months. I performed a 9-minute cut therefrom at Bumbershoot in September, which is where these pics were taken (by the wonderful Vince Vonada at Acappella Wedding and Family Photography).

Yes, I could probably afford to drop about 15 lbs. Duly noted. :(

If you missed Bumbershoot, it looks like I, along with others, will be performing at Balagan Theatre at 11:00pm on Friday, October 17th. The event will be free (though, being as it's a theater, donations will be more than appreciated).





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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little Big Town

This is brought on by the political tension in the air, but this isn't about politics. This is a rant on something that, I think, transcends (yet underlies) politics. What interests me right now is a certain current underneath the rhetorical tide, something that seems to speak more to the notion of "two Americas" than mere red & blue, liberal & conservative. Rural and urban is definitely part of it, and is probably where I'm gonna start, but I think it's something far more insidious than that, since that's just about where one lives, which grows, often as not, from the field in which one works and/or what one values.

This might be about the difference between those who deal in numbers and those who deal in letters, or those who handle objects and those who handle cultural commodities. I don't think it's about who works with hands and bodies vs. who works with the mind, because I find that division is the most facile of all (painters and sculptors work with their hands as surely as do farmers and mechanics, who use their intellects brains as surely as do professors and physicists; the physical, generative theatre I do demands that I read as astutely as a copy editor and maintain the physical condition of a professional athlete).

I suppose, in the end, the manufactured division I see is that between "the elite" and "hard-working Americans." As far as I know, most everyone here, if not everyone I could possibly think to ask, would claim to be the latter. So if we're all hardworking Americans . . . who the hell are the elite?

I've seen a lot of complaint in the last week or so from conservatives about liberals "talking down" to the rural voter, to "small town" values, and thus, presumably, to the "average voter." And while I've seen more conservative complaint than I've seen example of that about which they're complaining, it would be disingenuous to a degree beyond my capacity--I being an honest, if cheeky and evasive, sort--to suggest that I haven't seen a few people showing a lot and a lot of people showing a little of the kind of condescension being described.

Of course, we're talking about this now because we Sarah Palin--Alaskan, Christian, conservative, hockey mom--is on the national stage. How quickly these defensive, hard-working small town residents and their equally hard-working apologists forget the years (at least) of contempt leveled at urban, liberal "elites," and dismissal of their (okay, if I'm being honest--OUR) values as decadent, effete, out-of-touch with "hard-working" Americans . . . as though no one ever called us to ask about that rent check we held onto, waiting for a paycheck to clear; as though we never had to figure out how to make the same rice & beans we'd been digging into for a week look like a real meal, maybe even a marginally different meal than those rice & beans represented same time, day before; or had to take a second job to pay off the uncovered portion on our (okay, MY) wife's 4th throat surgery in the last decade while still slogging away at old student loans, medical bills, and business investments.

I use my personal story to illustrate because the notion of hard-working Americans and elites is a matter of personal narrative; and in everyone's narrative, he or she is the hard-working citizen, and the people who just don't get it are elite. When I sit in my one-bedroom apartment--the rent for which is over half my monthly income--with my wife, an "elite" is a jug-eared Texas millionaire with a vacation home; when I'm onstage or on the Fray, with my tailored diction and fondness for grammatical (de)construction, mocking the way that same millionaire says "nukular", well, apparently I'm elite.

Funny thing is, most of the people I know in my city (or my "Little Big Town," the Emerald City) came from small towns themselves; a lot of us learned our contempt for small towns--and many of us do, admittedly, have some--because we were beaten, bruised, mocked, ostracized, and, in some cases, raped, burned, and assaulted with arms in our little bergs. Some of us were clumsy and weak; some of us had no head for team sports; some of us just had aptitudes or interests in the directions of pretty words, soft fabrics, big ideas. We may have doubted in our churches, or recoiled at the idea of meat. Some of us may never have developed that pubescent interest in the opposite sex, instead gravitating towards our own, or maybe we did a little of both. Or maybe we just liked opera, which made it seem like we lacked "normal" heterosexual desire. Maybe we drew a sharp, astonished breath the first time we heard Sonic Youth, or My Bloody Valentine; maybe dissonance made us feel whole in ways that melody and harmony never could. Maybe we hit our growth spurts late, or early, or we were fat. Maybe we were just too fucking smart, or smart in the wrong ways.

Whatever it was, a lot of us found reasons to move away from those small towns, and for a lot of us--even those who suffered astonishing abuse at the hands of their peers and, mistakenly or not, blamed that abuse on rural small-mindedness, but particularly for those who didn't, or who did, to a degree, but also had beautiful memories of watching the sun set on a lake, or glimpsing a gigantic sturgeon a handful of feet below our canoe, or bowing to a cheering audience, or cupping a breast in the front seat of a '77 Volvo, the sun roof open, thinking even the football players don't have it THIS good--yes, for a lot of us, it was HARD to leave those small towns, where social norms were savagely enforced, but rents were low, competition in our disciplines was minimal, and somehow, no matter how lonely or ostracized we were, everyone who DIDN'T want to hurt us wanted to help us--they knew us, recognized us, knew we weren't right in the head, but, by God, he's Mike's kid, and I'll never forget that joke Mike told at the office Christmas party . . .

So it was hard in the cold hard city, and we had our struggles too. We DO have to hold down desks and counters, stack boxes in warehouses, prepare your food, drive your cabs, even if we spend our nights working a guitar or piano, treading the boards, or leafing through books. Maybe some of us'll get to quit our day jobs, to eek out a living on articles we're only half interested in writing, or slogging through ten Neil Simon plays in the hope that we'll get tossed some Shakespeare or Mamet now and again, or that we'll get to play our original songs instead of covering the fucking Eagles for another fucking wedding. Maybe some of us are programmers, and find good work at Microsoft, or we teach at universities, get tenured, and live comfortably. Or maybe we'll keep those day jobs, and do some art for big money, some for beer money, some for no money, in the hopes that someday, maybe even after we die, someone will look at the work we never, ever compromised and say, "There, there was a hound ahead of his time."

And maybe it's all bullshit, and maybe it's all a waste. And maybe the same goes for your life, your family, your God, your values. After all, we only have the stories we tell about ourselves, and the faith we put in their veracity. Maybe there's a heaven, a hell; maybe I'll come back as a banana slug or a wolverine or a Texas millionaire. Or maybe we're just fucking worm food, pre-soil; maybe the afterlife is the life our death makes possible.

If it sounds like we're making fun of you when we talk about your "guns and religion," well, remember that we sometimes seek our comfort and edification in our foreign cinema and kind bud, or our cheap wine and punk rock, or our transcendental meditation and macrobiotic diets. And you make fun of that, too (or so it looks from here).

If it sounds like I forgot to tell your story, well, remember that I don't know it. My own story--making it, telling it, finding some way to weave entertainment from it--has kept me busy. You worry about what those rap videos are doing to your kids; I'll worry about whether I'll ever be able to have any, or whether existence precedes essence, or whether there'll still be roles for me when I'm a little less young and a little less pretty.

Yes, this has been a ramble. Sorry for the disturbance. If you've made it this far, well, thanks for your indulgence.

If you need a moral, a thesis, it's this: We're ALL hard-working Americans (more or less; don't cloud the issue by nattering on about the drunk asking for change), and elitism doesn't come with a benefits package. I might have contempt for you, but that doesn't mean I don't see you as a brother; it means you have something I wish I had, or you don't have something I can't imagine living without, or I want you to understand me and like me (because I want everyone to understand me and like me), and you just plain don't, and that pisses me off. It's nothing personal . . .or rather, it's strictly personal, and it has nothing to do with what I think about where you live, what you do for a living, how you account for life and eternity, or even how you vote. I'd love for you to believe as I do, because I think it's true; I'd love for you to vote like I do, because then I'll have the leaders I want (or am, at least, willing to settle for); I'd love for you to buy tickets to my shows, especially if I'm getting a percentage of the door. Hell, if we liked the same kind of ice cream, I'm sure it would inspire someone to make more. But in the end, I'm just trying to do what I can with what I've got, wherever I can do it, and to make it all a little more bearable with whatever creature comforts, codes of honor, and spiritual directives appear to me to reflect truth and/or offer the greatest possible utility.

Rather like you, one imagines.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Heh, heh . . .

You paid attention during 91% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
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Um . . . That's what THEY think. The only thing I remember paying attention to in high school was a rather impressive cross-section of Helena, MT high school girls (and maybe a few college girls, and at least one teacher).

Confessions of a Churl

The title for this post would be a reasonable title for the whole blog, truth be told. But then there'd be pressure to be a churl all the time, and deep down, I like being a nice guy.

Don't laugh. I'm serious.

Mind you, I'm aware I fail at being a nice guy more frequently than I care to admit. In person, I frequently monopolize conversations, nattering on about music or cinema or, worse, bloviating endlessly on matters of my personal philosophy or artistic ambitions. Worse yet, I can also fall into long, silent funks (sort of like the last, oh, six or seven months, for those of you who only ever see me or speak with me here), that should be a relief from my exhausting loquaciousness, only it too often leads to an uncomfortable air of stewing, of self absorption, or, worse yet, a sort of mute, animal stupidity brought on by too much weed, too much booze, or lingering brain damage wrought by the many, many tantrums over the years in which I beat myself on the face until my vision went fuzzy and my cheeks swelled like I was storing nuts in 'em. I am, frequently enough, sullen, cantankerous, and elitist.

The frustrating thing about falling short of what you desire to be--not what you desire to have (though I've fallen significantly short on that measure) or what you wish to (or think you should) do (another mark I'm not reaching), but what/who it is you would like to look back and say you have been, or look forward and say you will be, or settle into and say, "I AM . . . "--is that it seems like something that should be entirely within your control. Something that extends naturally from your value system, your worldview, your perception and understanding of reality and your place in it. Not being an asshole should be as simple as deciding that you're not going to be an asshole and sticking with it.

I'm not blind to the fact that this dilemma could emerge from my apparently contradictory interests: my disdain for populism in tandem with my radical egalitarianism; my talky and pedantic anti-intellectualism; my burning desire for authenticity coupled with my desperate need to be loved by everyone I happen to encounter (or at least everyone I encounter who, for whatever reason, inspires some loyalty, admiration, or other connection in me).

Thing is, none of this explains how I manage to take an argument from a place like this to a place like this, or how I manage to mangle friendships with fumbled words and misread intentions, or how I become a nearly impossible spouse every time we hid the financial skids (which happens so often that I should start thinking of it as the status quo, and the rare peeks above the surface as the anomalous events). It doesn't really explain why I am, or when I became, the sort of person who becomes so agitated when listening to phone messages that I snap my fingers and pound on my desk when listening to them, hoping against hope that they will speak faster and let me get on with my very, very important task of appearing to be busy while fostering my ever more tenuous social connections on the web, frantically trying to convince myself that I am loved, that I even can be loved, enough to fill this hungry nothing at the heart of my being.

Sometimes I think it's just my Gemini, Jekyll-Hyde thing that makes mere being so bloody complicated. Jekyll is accountable, but congenitally unhappy; Hyde is quite a bit more fun, but those around him must work harder to avoid getting bitten in the ass (sometimes quite literally). Trouble is, as I mature, Jekyll gets stronger, which makes Hyde angrier, which seems only to increase the level of conflict . . . except during those (rare) periods of time during which I am wholly one or wholly the other. Which is not how I wish to live; the uncollapsed paradox, composed of both entities, comprises the central tenet of my being, my raison d'etre.

I have no satisfying conclusion to which to bring this. This post is bourne less of a literary impulse, and more of a desire to post after such a long absence, and to make heard my cry in the dark without the obligation to give it form or beauty. I've been mired in all manner of generative projects for the last year or two, and frankly, I'm tired of form and beauty. Or tired of serving form and beauty; I imagine I'd still be more than happy to let them serve me . . . which makes me wonder if Hyde isn't rising, after all.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Clawing to Zero

We're clawing our way to zero right now. I'm sure that we'll eventually claw our way past zero, perhaps even up into a comfort zone, but we need to find a way to stop running deficits. I'm working two jobs right now. In fact, I've been working two jobs for the better part of the last 4 months, my show with UMO having been a paid gig that gave us some significant extra income for the months of September and October.

What's frustrating for me is that I see myself as the kind of person who gives to or helps those less fortunate than myself. But I don't have much time to give to those less fortunate if I'm working two jobs, trying to write reviews (for my de facto third job), and trying to write a play and a possible libretto for the rock opera (for which I've found a potential collaborator). And I can't very well give anything material away when I'm trying to claw my way to zero from this pit of debt.

It's hard, faced with money troubles, to think about much of anything but money troubles. A lot of people are inclined to say, "Oh, it's the holidays; we all feel like that." But presents, at this point--whether for 'Stine's birthday or Christmas--are actually the last things on our minds. We're talking rent, here. Power. The phone and DSL. Our trip to visit 'Stine's folks is largely prepaid, which will be quite a blessing, and I don't think either of us have particularly high-falutin' notions regarding gifts this year. We'd just like to make it as smoothly as possible from this year to the next one and to see next year be a little brighter than this one as regards our financial prospects.

Lest this should reek of despair, however, let me not that, well, we ARE both working our asses off, the debt IS shrinking, and if our overdraft charges for the month look suspiciously close to our actual income, well, it only goes to show that we're just one good shot of real money away from stability, that if we could just catch up, maybe speed ahead enough that we could experience a week or two of being flush, our income and expense might actually match (just barely) for the six months or so it will take us to finish our consolidation. Meanwhile, I chant. And rather than chanting for money or wealth--though I do that--I chant to be better able to offer myself to others; to be a better provider; to have the capacity to make others' lives better; to make better, more enduring art. I chant, not to be a richer man, but to be the boddhisatva that a man of my particular aptitudes ought to be.

All right, that's enough of that.

What else to report?

Well, I've been reading the Harry Potter books. I know, I know, I'm a latecomer. I get immersed in my religious and philosophical texts, my art films, my heavy, dissonant music, and I forget how to read for entertainment. So I forced myself to make a go of this, and now I'm done with book 4, and I'm reasonably hooked. The only other reading I've really been doing, on a slow but occasional basis, has been on The Beast of Gevaudan, the definitive compilation of testimonials, letter, and reports on the true-life mystery-monster of the title. Dry but fascinating reading. I'm writing a play on the subject; it's the narrowing down of my scope that's giving me trouble. But no matter. I'll keep reading the book 'til I get the whole picture, then find the threads that fascinate me.

Thoughts are random and scattered, largely as a function of my merciless work schedule (even if the work itself is mercifully--though sometimes maddeningly--straightforward), so I can't grant you any great philosophical insights today. I'm in something of a worry spiral. So forgive the tepid prose and financial woes; I promise to have an honest-to-dog post sometime in the near future.

Think of this as me clearing my throat.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Changeling

I'm not here. There is no I. I am not the 'hound; I am of the 'hound. I am Jack's surrogate baying.

This is not a post.

This is the placeholder telling you that the 'hound will post, that he can post, that he's still capable of posting. This is the scarecrow; it holds the murder of crows at bay until the 'hound can again prowl the fields.

Or it's not. I wouldn't know, because I'm not so much here.

I am Jack's bleating ennui. I am Jack's overstuffed schedule. I am Jack's seething anomie.

Jack is tired and incoherent. He'll be back if he ever again decides that he has something worth sharing.

/wail.

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