Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Surrender of Sanity

I have not been able to admit that I am…


It is a blow to my pride. Today, I am unable to deny it. After an evaluation of my condition I have been “approved” for disability. I find it funny they call it an “approval” as if it were an endorsement. As if I were waiting on the edge of my seat for their acknowledgement; that without the tip of their hat in my direction I would not actually have this…

The reality hits you when you get that letter, that insidious nauseating sheet of paper. It names the flaws in the collection of fodder that is your particular flavor of the human condition. It lists them in black and white, a blasphemy in Times New Roman. A condemnation and salvation, supplying me with the money I need to survive, spitting in my face the weakness I strive to hide.

Tears fall down my face, Three Doors Down blares on the radio in my truck paying homage to the gods of rock old and new. I can’t seem to put it in drive. I want to scream, the kind that bares your teeth and is not a cry for help. The kind that incites, provokes, and threatens the violence I feel inside. A scream that echoes my desire to rend the flesh that has betrayed me - that lends credence to my supposed instability.

I let it go - it comes out a roar. Fists clenched and knuckles white, with recently clipped nails digging into my palms. My face turns a shade of red normally reserved for the sun faded paint of old rusted out trucks. The tendons and veins bulge through my neck as I slam my fists into the dash, ignorant of the pain in the action. Bending my head to the steering wheel and bringing my hands up to my face I can still smell the residue of cigarette smoke on them, the sharp tang of nicotine. I snatch the envelope and letter, wadding them up. Throwing it into the floorboard, the wadded paper resists my attempt to give it a hateful speed and lightly hits the rubber mats. Throwing back a few pills the psych doc prescribed I ram the truck into drive, regretting my trip to the P.O. Box.

Audioslave begins to play on the radio, my sub-woofer kicking in, “This ringing in my head; is this a cure or is this a disease...!”

I do not want their pity, nor do I want yours. Reserve your sympathy for those without the ability to resent it. I want to be normal again. I want to look into the mirror and see the man I could I become not the man I was, not the man I am. To be able to sleep at night and not dread the dreams - the things unmentioned. I can only speculate as to what it would be like to be able to tell myself the truth, and it not be a burden. I don’t want their damn money, I just need it.

This letter, I keep now in my file cabinet. It is my scarlet letter; a condemnation for all to behold. Even in the grocery store, the cashier knows it…she sees it in my eyes. A mark of the beast posted on me in such a way that it cannot be washed off.

My cesspool of a soul and mind is open for them to read clearly. I feel defeated; I somehow hoped they would say I was ok and that everything was going to be all right. They didn’t.  Instead they gave my monster a name. They call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - I call it a surrender.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Something to Say

This is an assignment for class.  The assignment was to write about our writing process as individuals.  Any aspects of it.  It had to be roughly a thousand words or less (basically the size of most newspaper articles).  I'm not sure if this is successful so feel free to give commentary.

          Sitting on a refurbished bar stool at the Forecastle in Little Creek, Virginia - with beer in hand and the synthetic glow of a computer monitor to keep me company - I was frustrated.  Having parked in front of a particularly old computer, with God knows what in mind, I was typing.  There was no grand design or deeply contemplated work underway; only the ramblings and ranting of a man made impotent by the imprisonment of his service.  Other soldiers and sailors surrounded me in apathy, each focused on their own digital world.  The dimly lit cyber café echoed with the forceful clicking of keys.  My typing drowned out the muttered and mumbling keyboard strikes of the rest, as a stampeding elephant would the hoof beats of running horses.
            “France? Fuck France.” I uttered under my breath, “They’re French and they do things different than us – Oooh, big deal!  Who cares?  The romance is lost on me.  Trading gun fire for a four day Parisian romp is a poor deal...” The cursor on the screen would mirror my words a letter at a time. 
This deployment the U.S. Navy would send me on was appalling.  I cared not for the troubles of Somalia, nor was I thrilled at the prospect of visiting France on the way there.  What hollow succor was that?  To send people into harm’s way for pay that would make the common man cry was truly a sin, but to try and placate our anger by portraying a visit to France as ample reward for said action was insulting.  In that moment, sucking down bitter warm beer, I had enough.  I finally had something to say about my circumstances – my life – which I could not vocalize.  I was done with the military, my duty and a second deployment immediately after the first was just about as unwelcome as it could get.  In a frenzied writing fest, I vented to the All Mighty Lord of Illegitimate Text – a blog. 
It was the first time words came easily to me.  They flowed freely from my fomenting mind, with the eagerness that only accompanies a burgeoning word smith. Expectant fingers, attached to plastic and white painted letters on blackened keys, moved in a flurry - each letter punctuated by the staccato rhythm of strokes. 
Through my frustrations that day I would come to love writing and learn one of its most essential principles – have something to say.  That probably sounds a little simplistic, but in practice it is far more difficult than I ever realized.  With a furrowed brow and a tempered fury I would stay at that terminal for hours, sucking in second hand smoke like it was my job to filter it out of the air one lung full at a time.
The clinking of ash trays, like wind chimes in a fire, made the melody for the cacophony of voices screaming at me from nine years of English teachers. I had heard it a thousand times in my brief early academic career – write what you love!  It was - and is - never that easy though.  Adjusting myself on the thin and inadequate chair padding, I discovered a way to force the words out of my timid metaphorical mouth – anger.  It provided words where none could be found and with the proper mentality, could be shaped to inspire the writer in ways I had never thought possible.   The desert-like desolation of the daunting white page suddenly grew fertile and the lush contents of its margins began to overflow.
In the absence of sentimentally motivated inspiration I reached into the trusty tool bag of those living outside idyllic lives. Love and passion were sick and fettered hallucinations in that café.  I brought to bear the hammer of discourse, discontent and disillusionment.  Pounding away at my native language with all the force of reckless intent and lacking the skill of a true craftsman.  Yet still the words came. 
Unbound by the hesitation of better judgment or the constraints of what may be said aloud – I ventured into unknown territory.  I made the wanton, impolite and impolitic my prized possessions.  Sitting in a darkened smoke filled room that stank of stale beer and old pretzels – I found my voice and motivation inside the eclectic clicking of keyboards. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Organic Music

          The gentle whirring of a cassette tape, a shadowed voice on an open chord; I am introduced to true artistic genius in a world of haunting beauty and startling imperfection.  The year is 1993 and what else could I be, but all apologies?  Kurt Cobain croons through the speakers of my antiquated stereo.  Ripped jeans the order of the day, worn down t-shirts and rough vocals wrap me in homage to the 20th century’s acoustic Poe.  His voice, with its light jagged edge, is tinged with despair even in these days of Nirvana’s unbridled success. 

It is that experience in 1993 with MTV doing one of their very first “Unplugged” sessions that would start me down a course that I have come to call Organic Music.  There is a quality to Mr. Cobain’s work of that era and of other artists that cannot be replicated in today’s highly synthetic music market.  We have come to accept the over polished, easily digestible, and edited works of mainstream music culture as the standard for song.  This modern, industrialized, and consumer-oriented refining process, when applied to the auditory arts, loses something truly “organic” or natural in the music itself that is of vital importance to context and composition.  AutoTune may give the perfect pitch, but would we have fully felt Kurt’s anguish if he had lip synched his sorrow and slavery to the needle?

The acrid tang of Mary Jane fills the air; an uncomfortable cool permeates equipment and personages alike; including the already preternaturally moist cinder block walls, and concrete floors.  The year is 1967 and the times they are a-changin’!  Bob Dylan belts out socially conscious lyrics in the basement of his upstate New York home.  He’s breaking new ground by avoiding the studio all together; recording music in a place that is not designed for acoustic perfection.  His work will come to inspire and define the tribulations of an entire generation. 

I do not know of a respectable record company in the present time that would ever release anything recorded in a basement without a complete overhaul. I also cannot think of any label that has in recent years put forth artists that could be said to have truly challenged society’s perception of itself as a whole.  Lady GaGa is controversial because she wears a façade of audacity; meat dresses, strange hats and odd heels. We like her because she gives us music we can move too, it has a beat.  Bob Dylan was controversial because what he sang challenged the way we understood our people, nation, and government.  We like him because he plucks at the heart strings of civilization.  Audio layering and digital manipulation make it easier to hear the words of singers clearly but would we have paid any attention to what Dylan had to say if it had been to a beat we could dance to?

Do not mistake me; there is a place for music we can move to.  When the industry begins to focus less on the creativity and more on the marketability though - we have lost, truly lost the art.  We are experiencing a glorious “dumbing down.”  Once where musicians were given carte blanche, they are now shackled to the mob appealing four-on-the-floor.  The unique and creative nature of artists should be allowed to grow absent the pesticides of auto tuning or digital manipulation.  In our efforts to make music better, we have corrupted it, going so far as to manufacture artists like Ashlee Simpson; (in)famous for her performance (or lack thereof) on SNL.  That would not have even been possible before electronic manipulation.  There were no soundtracks to lip-synch too.  Yet in our time, a musician was not able to perform on stage because the proper recordings of her music were not ready.  We should be so ashamed. 

Abandon this mad pursuit of perfection! Embrace the natural, organic, and beautiful flaws that add the art to life!  After all the Tower of Pisa, without a lean, is just another building.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fighting The Shank

Do you know Tyler Durden?  Bill Mechanic wishes he had never heard of him.  In 1999 Fight Club debuted to the excessively seething criticism only the cinema elite can muster.  It was billed as an action movie on par with Die Hard; blood and bare flesh locked in brutal conflict.  Brad Pitt’s manic laughter and a fireball explosion would cut through the heavy house music of the preview – his face a ruin, covered in gore. 
The film was a failure in all the ways 20th Century Fox wished it wouldn't be.  Grossing a meager thirty-seven million dollars – after a production cost in excess of sixty million – the CEO of Fox Studios, Bill Mechanic, was asked to resign. 

Today Fight Club is considered one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time, selling more DVD’s than most blockbuster films could ever hope to.  So what happened?  How could what we now know as an anointed movie classic be tossed so easily into a box office dumpster?  We could blame the critics for its theatrical collapse.  It’s easy to do and they make great scape goats.  No one really enjoys the endless and over-analytical tedium of grumpy old men; yet the mob of movie-goers has ignored them too many times in the past for the fault to be theirs - so if not the critics, who is the movie mangler?

The Shawshank Redemption hit screens in the fall of 1994; the majority of critics agreed it was a powerful and compelling film.  Castle Rock Entertainment rejoiced. They began to churn out trailers for the ever eager public and the people responded.  Their response involved a less than eight-hundred thousand dollar opening weekend. Critics’ reviews were futile against the mysterious grim reaper of cinema.  The trailers portrayed the film as such mawkish garbage some were left wondering if Danielle Steele hadn't taken up screen writing.  A light and airy flute played in the background and Tim Robbins whispered, “There’s somethin’ inside they just can’t touch – hope…” Cue the gagging, Mr. Darabont.  It is here we see the devil in disguise, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the bad apple in the bag – marketing.

The Shawshank Redemption is as much about redemption, as Fight Club is about fighting, as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is about flying over a small yellow bird’s home.  Yet when the marketing madmen grasped hold of Shawshank and Fight Club they colored them to be exactly what they aren't.  These two movies are far deeper than their names describe and would not fit easily into the categories that make up the ideology and foundation of cinematic salesmanship.  The decision to classify The Shawshank Redemption as a “feel good film” completely bastardized the moments made potent by the darker context of prison - just as the parade of violence masked the philosophical purpose of Fight Club.  Viewers were deceived by the bait and switch - which the studios felt deeply at ticket time.

“It all comes down to trust…” as a professor of mine has been known to say - though he was specifically referring to writing.  Just as a writer must trust the reader - those in marketing must trust viewers to understand and not distract them from the intent.  In an effort to make Shawshank and Fight Club appeal to a broad audience, marketing teams at the two studios tried to give us what they thought we wanted.  What we wanted were the movies as they really are.  Both cinematic works are highly regarded by the film community today and all that was necessary was an accurate portrayal of what they were really about. 
According to IMDb the two movies, Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption, are ranked by watchers to be in the top ten greatest of all time, despite their dismal performances in theatres.  I believe there is evidence enough for a conviction – marketing is guilty of almost ruining the movies.  It’s just a shame we discovered this too late to help poor, old Bill Mechanic.