Monday, October 24, 2011

A Call to Arms

In recent weeks, I've come to many conclusions. One, yes, it's easy to fall into the rut. It's difficult to fight out of it. I've seen many of my co-citizens move into a city sanctioned tent city and protest the inequalities of the world. I've been having conversations in bars during the late night hours after work and before sleep. I feel like I've met some really uninteresting people this fall. It could be age, or that I hold high standards. Who knows? I do not want to paint a picture of modern life, nor the streets of Portland, Oregon in an unfavorable light. Nor do I want to make myself out to be a monster. I tell you, I've been looking for the creative people. I've been looking for the motivated people. I've been searching for the like minded, pursuit pursing people who do what they do out of compulsion, desire and discipline. A few years ago a dear friend of mine, Symphony Tidwell, decided she was going to learn how to play the stand up bass. Okay, cool, right? The woman had never been trained as a musician. She had no money to buy the bass, and furthermore, no money for lessons once she bought the bass. The idea occurred to her in the summer. By summer's end, she had the bass. She played the thing until the strings were stained with her blood. Within a year she was teaching lessons, and just over a year since the purchase of the bass, she toured Europe with Johnny Barber and the Rhythm Razors. I am, and I always have been immensely proud of my friend Symphony. She once told me that the bass was in her blood. “You know my grandmother played the bass, totally in my blood,” she said. “No it isn't,” I said. The statement shocked her. As I waited for her to punch me, I cleared my voice indicating the rest of the soliloquy. “You decide to play the bass, you work extra shifts to pay for it, and the lessons, then you decided to play it fifteen hours a day, and you think this is in your blood? You're crazy, this is all in your mind, in your determination.” “Yeah,” she said. “I guess you're right.” But the truth is, wouldn't it be pretty to think that it's in our blood? It's in our minds, it's in our moods, it's in the fabric, it's makes us do what we do: draw pictures, write poems, play stand-up basses.

My call to arms is simply this: throw it all in, and go do it! I hope you're engaged in the most fantastic artistic pursuits. I hope whatever it is you do, you're doing, not just thinking about doing it. There is no hurtle that keeps you from doing it.

So, there I was. I was six, possible seven sips into the pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, when I got a new bar mate. This new bar mate, name not remembered, begins to sell me on her screenplay. She's got this idea to take Patrick Kennedy O'Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces and make it into a screenplay. I agreed with her, there is potential. As many of you know, I have worked on screenplays before. And many of you know that I don't think novels, especially novels the length of this one make good screenplays. In the situation with a longer work of fiction, the filmmaker must figure out what to cut to transpose a 400 pages novel into a 114 pages script. But, never mind my thoughts, this is about my glassy eyed bar mate who is about to make her way through Hollywood as the greatest screenwriter ever. So, I listen to her. She had passion and a plan. She had a sense of purpose. “Sounds great,” I said. “When will you finish it?”
“Well,” she began. “I haven't started it.”
“Why not?”
“I need a Powerbook,” she said.
“A Powerbook,” she repeated.
“What for?”
“To write it,” she said. She was serious too. The statement made me angry. She needs a Powerbook and without it she won't be able to write the best screenplay of all time.
“You don't need a Powerbook to write this,” I said.
“Yes, I do.”
“If you really want to write this, you can write it on cocktail napkins.”
“No, I can't,” she said. She was right, there was no other way. Not for her. As a result whether or not she gets the Powerbook or not, this screenplay will remain forever in the ether. It will never get written. I suspect the saddest part of the script never to be written isn't the product itself. The saddest part is, well, this writer will never begin or enjoy the process of production. I suspect that the rest of her days will be at the bar talking about the greatest idea ever, if only, if only, if only.

There are tools for each of us. For my dear friend Symphony, she needed to buy the bass. Without the bass, there was no future for her as a musician. But the latter case of my bar mate, a Powerbook is not mission essential, nice maybe but not crucial. After all, there is no shortage of paper and pens.

We all get this ideas. We all have these creative ideas. We all need tools. The greatest tool of all, is the one that compels us to do our desired task. The determination to begin a project, work it through to completion is tool enough for accomplishment.

If you have the desire to write, and I hope that you do, just start doing it. It will get easier, this I know. Start small. Start with a haiku, it's seventeen syllables. Just start. Don't worry about the nonessential stuff. Just start to work. Pick up that pen and go. Do not self-edit, self-censor or self-condemn. Just get on it and do it now. When you have a thousand pages, then you can edit.

Get your Powerbook, your spiral notebook, your paper grocery sack, your old manual typewriter. Start with one work. One work. And go.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Creativity and Unrest, Part 2

Go home and make art. Go home and make love. Not necessarily in that order. If you cannot do those things, then do what your father told you to do and go to work and make money.
I'm delusional.
I still think there is a way to avoid all of this.
This last week we had the “Occupy Portland” rally/protest/riot. I'm still very unsure what these people were trying to accomplish. I still do not understand the fight. From what I gather, there is inequality in the world (by which I mean the US or more specifically, Portland, Oregon). The teachers aren't paid enough. Student loans are unfair. Wall Street fat cats are the end of us all. And above all, the government is really evil.
Who cares?
Standing behind causes is one thing.
Hanging around with others is something else.
But protesting the world because of this, that or the other is odd.
And this whole time, I thought there was a potent potential in all of us to go out into the world and create something, something good. Go forth all of you and leave something behind. Leave behind a random garden of words or herbs in the fields and forests of this new world landscape that will tickle, thrill, chill, elate or delight the one to come up behind you. Go home and make art. Go home and make love, right? There is so little time for all of this other nonsense. Yes, the corporations are evil, yes, the government is evil. Who cares? They do not need you. You want to protest, don't participate. Yes go home and make art, make love. Is this really protesting? Well, you won't be paying taxes to a bankrupt government who doesn't treat your money (or labors) responsibly, for starters. And chances are, if you're making art, you won't be dependent on foreign oil, or paying the salaries of CEOs the world over who squander the money of the poor broken backs of the workers.
No, I'm suggesting this: an entire generation, an entire community, an entire world who has just washed their hands of the old ways and wandered out into the immensity of their universe and begun to repaint, retell, recreate life. I'm suggesting a fearlessness of minds who value creativity and expression more than the system. I'm suggesting a fuck all to convention and in the vacuum of this current disaster, we are left behind in a new day of spent people who have tired themselves out in the process of creation.
But alas, I am delusional. This is not the future of mankind. No, everyday we bring more people into the world. Everyday the tyranny of the individual has made the source of confusion more clearly out of focus. Everyday we get further from the point of art and love I believe we should make. Everyday, I feel like our unrest grows. Everyday, I feel like the volatile combination of population, lack of education, dysfunction of government, imposition of institutions and hodgepodge of ideologies takes us further rather than closer to a solution. It's not making art edgy. It's not make more artists: the writers, the poets, the musicians, the painters and the sculptors. The makers of film, the sketchers of portraits, the singers of ballads, the strumers of guitars, the street performers, the balloon tying clowns remain far and few between. Yes, the artist, in every capacity remains small in this world of occupied tension. The artist is not at home making art and making love. I think the artist is at work, punching a time clock somewhere daydreaming about the next manifestation of their craft. The artist is waiting. I hope the artist is waiting. I hope that the artist goes forth and creates, makes more, inspires more. Let the unrest socially and politically fail. Let the protesting and the government spending and the corporate greed fail in the folds of the books and poems and music to come.
Oh yes, I am delusional. But in my daydreams, the artist emerges from everyone and everyone settles into their muse and creates. In my daydreams, this is what separates us from animals. This is what separates us from the subhumans and the demons we harbor.  

Monday, October 10, 2011


Perhaps there is no real cure for ennui. Perhaps a person is just predisposed to boredom and chronic suffers have no choice.
I've tried over the years to avoid ennui. I feel like many of my peers battle it too. I feel like a high stress job and job title helps to combat it because it provides a distraction. Prescription drugs and reality TV do this too. The pursuit of materialism, hedonism; sports, politics and spiritualism are distractions too. But do these things really cure ennui?
Ennui follows me because I'm only slightly more intelligent than I wish to be and I'm only slightly dimmer that I could be. I figure if I was just a little dimmer I could live like I think some people do, I could gladly chain myself to any number of institutions: work, sports, politics or church. And if I was more intelligent, I could lose myself in some sort of higher thought which I cannot conceive with my current faculties.
That's life.
At this point, what?
Just do what you have to do, these are my words. When I get that feeling of ennui, I mean, what else can I do? The state of my mental health depends on those hours a day when I get to write. I think many people feel the same way. I think it comes down to expression. If it's not writing, it might be painting, or music, or whatever. It's creation. And outside of that, we really don't have much going for us. And as far as the ennui goes, who's to say? Just create something. Make love, make art. Make something beautiful, something scary. Anything. And I bet the ennui shrinks, even if it's very unnoticeable.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Contempt 3: the Detriment

I'm peevish these days. I'm peevish these days because I've been mired in the construction of chapter books. These smaller projects came about as I finished my novel Sand and Asbestos. I wanted to write something new, something different. In Search of Basho was born.
I looked at the chapter book as a new adventure and venue for smaller pieces. I aimed to write fifty pages, I figured the average reader could read this amount in a sitting and move on with their day.
Okay. I also thought these projects as a way to polish up and assemble smaller thoughts and processes. I'm currently finishing up #18 and #19. Twenty chapter books is the goal.
The reason I've become so peevish is because I opted to use old notebooks as the source of the chapter book material. As I read through the notebooks of 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 I became horrified at the material, the lack thereof and if that's not sufficient reason for peevishness, I don't know what it.
In 2002, I was acting on advice given to me from a trusted friend. Time would change all of that, the friend and the merit of the advice. I worked then and made good money. I bought a house. In short, I again opted to take the path of the conventional.
There was an artist in my community at that time who was good buddies with the above mentioned trusted friend. This artist spent hours and hours everyday engraving copper plates. I loved him for it and I was genuinely impressed with his work.
Now, the trusted friend told me that I should buy the house, I should think about business and that I should treat writing as a hobby like rebuilding an old car. Incidentally, I did rebuild an old car. His point? He thought our artist friend had so dedicated his life to art that what he gave up was a good money earning, creature comfort seeking, materialistically conventional life. Admittedly, it made sense. This artist lived in squalor. He worked part time as a waiter. He drank heavily. And because of conversations with the trusted friend, I became reticent of jumping headlong into my writing.
Ultimately, I would do what I needed to do. I no longer talk to that once trusted friend. I no longer have a mortgage. Now, I write everyday. Things are good. But it took a long time to recover.
So shy so peevish?
Reading and rewriting old words from that time is tough. At that time I was on the brink of good stuff. I was told advice (which I followed) not to make writing become a detriment to my quality of life. Don't be like the artist. Instead, I let life become a detriment to my writing. In allowing this, I lost valuable time. I lost hours of my day, each day, and I lost the value of the process.
Today, I'm grateful that that time gave me valuable experience in the realm of the living of life. And naturally after compiling old work, I feel peevish.
If it come to this: production of art or the living of life, don't fall victim to reason. Your feelings should help you to decided. If you want to work in copper or iambic pentameter, do it. It will sort itself out. This is life and nothing more. And since you know someday you'll die, why not die trying?