Friday, August 25, 2006

In other discussions . . .

What makes the perfect song? That's the subject of this discussion. Laying out theories? Making lists? Justifying choices? Oh. My. God. This forum may have made my week.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I, Bourgeois

So the other night, I was unable to bring myself to attend my martial arts class. I do so try to be a dedicated student, but I was tired, grouchy, overwhelmed; I felt overscheduled, underslept, potently dissatisfied with self, life, work, and recreation.

My solution? Retail therapy.

Now, I rarely engage in retail therapy, mostly because our economic circumstances are such that even acquiring what we need is sometimes a bit of an ordeal. But I was feeling a particular dissatisfaction with my khakis: they're the sort of light tan, generic-looking Old Navy khakis that are the uniform of fashion-indifferent, business-casual office drones everywhere. So I find myself a lovely pair of herringbone-style khakis, made of cotton, but with the weave and texture of herringbone tweed. They're brownish, but neutral enough that they could as easily be worn with cool colors as warm, with a shirt and tie, a jersey, a T-shirt and sport jacket, you name it.

Where did I find these wonder trousers? Well . . . Old Navy. Exactly where I got the bland khakis for which I'd come to feel such contempt, which, in turn, I'd bought because khakis just make it easier not to think about what I'm wearing. And I bought BOTH pairs of pants on my Old Navy card, increasing our debt while maintaining the illusion that I still have that money in my real account. Between the use of credit (hell, the possession of credit) at Old Navy, the matter of sweatshops and regressive labor laws, matters of conformity and mass-production, and the decidedly male, in the ugliest traditional sense, approach to wardrobe, I'm at risk of revocation of license for my three most prized practices: bohemiamism, liberalism, metrosexuality. My God, I'm just a GUY. I had to go by a used corduroy shirt jacket at Value Village for $6.99 just to clean that feeling off (and can I say, my corduroy jacket looks great with the new herringbone khakis, and pretty good with my mechanic-fit jeans . . . also from Old Navy).

Yes, folks, the rejectionist himself is really just an average Joe with a tattoo (hey, I'll get another one soon) and some long-neglected piercings.

Like many artistic sorts, I've long sneered at any values I called "bourgeois", having a certain disdain for the notion that respectability or property were of any real use. I've rejected, on well-documented and fiercely argued grounds, the notion that music should please the ear, that cinema should make us laugh or feel good about ourselves, that law exists to protect people instead of wealth, etc. But it's all something of a sham: I DO want to be respected, and even my most dissonant, dystopian and dysphoric aesthetic indulgences are enjoyed because, for whatever reason, they DO please my ear, make me laugh, and, in some roundabout way, make me feel good about myself. I'd like for my aptitudes and talents to earn me admiration, and I'd like to weave a career therefrom, thus securing my access to what I see as my necessary--or at least highly desirable--material comforts. I want my clothing to be inexpensive and reasonably interchangeable, in the sense of everything sort of matching with everything else, without having to always go the all-black, all-the-time route OR stay aware of which color is "in" this season.

Fact is, most people who use the word "bourgeois" are, in fact, precisely that; the rich have no disdain for materialism, the poor don't spend a lot of time weighing social paradigms and value systems. Inasmuch as "bourgeois" means "middle-class", it's we who are moderately educated, working for just-enough-yet-strangely-too-little, who both know what it means and feel guilty enough about it to criticize it. Sure, there are those among us like myself, who have used our modest means to explore outsider aesthetics and maverick philosophies, sought divergence from mainstream religion and are suspicious of mainstream media. But scratch the surface of these "rebellions", and you'll find that most of their theorists, critics and practitioners are of that same bent. They're what Herman Hesse dubbed "steppenwolves", lone lupine luminaries frustrated with, but inescapably held by, a world where order and civility are the norm. Look at any of history's great rogue philophers--de Sade, Lautreaumont, Sartre--and you'll see a gallery of malcontents fiercely (and knowingly) biting the hand that fed them all, carving out a comfortable niche from which to rail against comfortable niches.

I could equivocate on the matter for days (and you can stop giggling there in the back row). Gustave Flaubert once said that an artist should try to live the quiet, ordered life of the bourgeois individual, that he may be violent and original in his art; I'd proudly bear the banner of that idea were I actually creating any art at the moment. And really, I'm only looking for bargains so I can reinvest my income into my other pursuits; but if I'm being honest, the big problem with my pursuits is that I'm at loathe to sell out on the one hand, while finding it too tiring to study, take classes, work full-time and make art, particularly since I find it wholly necessary for my marriage (that most bourgeois of institutions, in which I've been happily and successfully engaged for a decade now) to spend some portion of every week cuddling on the couch to a DVD (whether it's one of my violent independent horror flicks, an obscure proto-surrealist European oddity from the '20s, or the first season of Scrubs).

In The Steppenwolf, after noting that the disaffected bohemian is, generally, a middle-class phenomenon itself, Hesse goes on to suggest that the bourgeoisie survives solely because of the steppenwolves, that the innovations of the middle-class's most disaffected members allow the system against which they ostensibly rebel to thrive. It does seem to me that a system allergic to the uncivilized appetite for deviance and chaos would need an occasional injection of both to avoid death-by-stasis, that the old mammalian impulses to destroy and dominate help give civilization a needed kick in the ass now and again. But I also think it works both ways: without some definition of civility, we'd never need to invent a clever subversion of such base impulses into aesthetics, theory, kink and/or technology. Without the education our (modest) affluence has bought us, we'd never have become too smart for our own good (or anyone else's), never have so exhausted the mainstream canon as to become disenchanted with it, never have experienced privelige to enough of a degree to become mistrustful of it.

That doesn't mean there aren't still conflicts to deal with. While I think that the far left has been facile in its understanding of sweatshop economics--these jobs are often the only alternative some third world workers have to trying to grow crops in fucking sand--I'd certainly love to know that the dapper herringbone khakis I'm wearing were made by people with health insurance, and that my punk-meets-preppy-with-a-dash-of-hippie aesthetic relied more on creative use of homemade and second-hand items than on any prefab, mass-produced fashion mandate. I'll always want more, and always wish I could do with less. I wish civilization hadn't made cars, phones, and computers necessities instead of luxuries. I'm always shaken by the paradox that I could probably simplify my life if I only had more money right now to pay of my debts, invest in a home infrastructure that allowed me to do more with less--by a sewing machine, a giant spice-rack, a handful of strong, well-made, universally applicable clothing items to replace my vast patchwork of half-formed, invariably "settled-for" approximations of what I need, a vehicle or two. I'm always amused that the people exhorting us to shop with the worker in mind, abandoning price as our primary consideration, are usually a little higher on the economic food chain than the rest of us, and that "voluntary simplicity" so often seems to be by-product of affluence. And I may never fully reconcile myself with the frustrations of the art world, the ways that the mainstream seems to stifle innovation, the way that the underground allows deceptive bursts of success that all other underground artists will attempt in vain to replicate.

But in the end, while I'm not likely to stop using "bourgeois" as a shorthand for everything prosaic and yawnworthy, I should remember that I'm also implicating myself with that word . . . and that maybe that's not such a bad thing.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

And So It Comes To Pass . . .

Ten years. A decade.

The first wedding anniversary seemd like a landmark because, well, it was the FIRST. The second was a good indication that this wasn't a fluke, the third was cool because the number 3 has tremendous symbolic significance, the fourth corresponded with all sorts of other time cycles (high school, leap year, the Olympics, most musical meter), and the fifth was a big deal because 5, like 10, was always one of those happy, easy numbers back when we were learning the multiplication tables. But what made 5 so significant was its relationship to 10, so even the fifth anniversary was mere foreshadowing for this one.

Ten years.

Getting away to Port Townsend for the day proper was a stroke of genius on our part. We've neglected the pretty parts of our own state, because the hassle of renting a car and travelling usually inspires us to travel, which, for better AND for worse, has always involved visiting folks, usually family. In fact, this little excursion was the first "vacation" (I mean, I only took 3 days off from work; hence the quotes) we've had that didn't involve anyone else. My, it was refreshing. We took lovely walks, ate a fantastic dinner (she went nuts on some king crab legs, while I snarfed down a lovely halibut filet with wilted greens), engaged in frivolous shopping, watched copious amounts of cable, ate, drank, had loud sex with the windows open . . .

Of course, any marriage is largely about community, so we DID have ourselves a lovely gathering at home on Sunday. In theory, it was to start at noon; in practice, it was nearly 3:30 by the time anyone showed up. The first few hours were spent languishing by the pool, with intermittent swimming and sunning, and then moved inside, where music was played and there was much imbibing.

All in all, it was pretty dang near perfect.

Other than that . . . I'm still plugging away at the martial arts, and am now starting work on granting for a theatre/martial arts project for at-risk youth which I'll be co-teaching in the fall. I have an itch to do theatre, but there's no theatre I'm itching to do, so I'm relishing the opportunity to take some theories, simplify them to where I can pass them along to the young and impressionable in a fairly short period of time (8 weeks, 3 hours a week), make some money (!!!), and . . . well, see what floats and what doesn't. I try to quiet my blind terror at the whole prospect of teaching anything with the idea that I could even learn a good bit from failure.

Since we've clearly hit some sort of expiration date on the matter, I can say that my initial sending of music writing to magazines ended in a positive response that lead to precisely nothing, so I'm both encouraged and discouraged. But I've got some new work to shop around, so I may send some of it along. I need to find some more publications that specialize in both the music and dialogue with which I'm trying to engage, but that's the kind of trawling that'll have to wait until I've finished the grant-writing and lesson-planning for the upcoming teaching job.

We've developed one disposable camera's worth of shots from the vacation, but I'll have to wait 'til we see the second before posting anything; at the risk of inspiring certain fellow bloggers to "punch me where I fuck", I look woefully out of shape in many of the shots, and would like to keep them from the public eye. Hopefully the second roll will yield all the pictures in which I look ripped and attractive. :^) Still, between that and a couple-year-old (we can't fix on an exact date) roll of film we found and took in with this one, there are some good candidates for a replacement profile picture. Nothing wrong with the old one, of course, but we all need an image makeover now and again.