Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I Told You I Was Trouble"

Amy Winehouse is dead, have you heard? Girl was a mess, it’s true, but does that make her death any less terrible, because it was avoidable? Or was it avoidable at all? She had a disease and the treatment didn’t work. Or at least speculation says the treatment didn’t work. It has not been officially reported how she died and whether or not it was due to recent drug use. Videos from her recent concert in Belgrade would argue that it did. Whatever the case, it is truly sad that her incredible talent has been seriously overshadowed by her demons, a la Michael Jackson. 
I think we are all aware of the fact that addiction is a disease. Amy Winehouse was a hard and fast addict. From crack to ketamine, she didn’t dabble in drugs, she showered in them. She was so obviously on a dark path to destruction since way before Back to Black was released. We all watched this woman deteriorate before our eyes. She was Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix...all over again. In a twisted way, we were entertained by it.  
Do we glorify the drug-fueled deaths of famous musicians/artists/actors? In a way, yes.  Is it entertaining? Of course. Is it perverse? Absolutely. 
Why is this particular form of human suffering so eye-catching? I believe it’s because there is a type of excitement, rebelliousness to addiction that those who have never experienced wonder about, maybe even want a taste of. Yet those who have truly dealt with these demons can assure you, that romantic feeling is no longer present when you’re living in the throes of addiction.
There is a romanticism surrounding drug use and even rehab. I have often wondered why shows like “Intervention” get so much viewership, myself included. Is it because we can all connect to that out-of-control feeling in one way or another? Do we all in some subconscious way covet the ability to let everything go and literally have no other concern in your life other than where your next hit will come from? Do we all in some way desire to see just how far our friends and family would go to bring us back from the depths of our suffering? Shows like “Intervention” and “Celebrity Rehab” show the dark side of addiction, sure, but they also promote the idea that when you’re ready (you hit your ‘rock bottom’) you get a shiny rehab center in Palm Springs where you can rehab in luxury, all paid for by your friends at A&E. I don’t think we are naive enough to believe this to be true, or even effective. 
As an “artist”....(I feel pretentious even using that term but I suppose it applies to anyone who creates art, yes?) I feel that there is a certain romanticism constantly applied both consciously and subconsciously to the struggle of an artist. It’s almost expected that you have some kind of demon on your back. Van Gogh drank himself to death with absinthe, HST put a bullet in his brain, Salinger couldn’t bear to face a world he detested, McQueen couldn’t take it anymore. Pain makes great art, it’s absolutely true, but are the two mutually exclusive? It would seem for some people they are, for many of the most famous artists who have dealt with these issues, they are. But, do we glorify their work because of their struggle? Or is it always the case that their work is worth glorification?
I can’t speak too much on Amy Winehouse except that I do believe she reopened a genre and allowed a much easier passage for female soulful artists like Adele. She wasn’t gorgeous, she didn’t have her shit together and she didn’t pretend to, but damn, the girl could write and sing. And it wasn’t that Glenda-the good witch, high pitched, singing to the birds shit. It was all over the place, but controlled, powerful, heartfelt, pure. Pure in the sense that she sang from her heart, it wasn’t cleaned up or smoothed out.  
The question is, is this always the case? Would Kurt Cobain have held our attention for so long if his mind didn’t get the better of him? Would we still care what Elvis had to say at 76 years old? Would anyone care about Marilyn Monroe once her figure faded? Even Bradley Nowell, would Sublime just be some band seen as an anachronism rather than the voice of a twisted 90’s counterculture? We can all argue these points to death but we’ll never truly know, all we will know is that their deaths certainly helped solidify their place in the history of pop culture. 
 Let’s be honest, the media takes advantage of it’s sweethearts and it is no place for someone who isn’t mentally stable. Though you can’t really blame “the media” too much, they are responding to the demand. In the same way we can’t get angry for recurring seasons of Jersey Shore because apparently there are a whole lot of people in the world who watch it (wtf?), we can’t completely blame the media for exploiting these troubled stars. We bought the magazines, we watched the videos, we saw the downfall happen before our eyes. 
We see the manipulation of the media all the time, Britney Spears is a prime example. In what other circumstance would we feel as though we have a right to be front row to someone’s mental breakdown? The media tells us, “no, it’s ok, you can watch, these people sold their souls to you”. 
The artists who truly succeed seem to be the ones who know who they are and refuse to compromise their values. They aren’t swayed by distractions because they’re not in it for the fame or fortune, they’re there for their art. They keep their private lives to themselves and stay as far away from the media as possible. They’re also the ones who are lucky enough to not battle with addiction or if they do, they received help quickly. Lots of money, lots of access, and groups of people seemingly encouraging your behavior are a deadly combination for an addict. Amy definitely had the odds stacked against her. 
It’s almost uncomfortable to listen to her music. To get so much out of something that came from so much pain is a strange thing but truthfully, the basis for a lot of amazing art, writing and music. It really is too bad the no one around her was able to guide her through her struggles. It seems selfish to say she was cut short in her musical career (think of what she might have produced if she pulled herself together!), when really, she was cut short in her life. And the 27 Club grows. 
If you’re interested, check out Russell Brand’s eulogy, I thought it was quite eloquent. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Star Gazed"

I am pseudo participating in Annex Comics 30 Day Sketch Challenge. Basically, if the prompt inspires me to write something, I'll do so; if it inspires me to draw something, I'll do so...albeit awfully. Anyway, if I like what I wrote I'll post it on here just because it's not really appropriate to post it on the Event Wall, and it gives me a reason to bring the piece to some sort of completion. Though, I believe that "no piece is ever truly finished, only abandoned". So, read if you'd like.

Day 2:

Star Gazed

You have to wonder 
if your distance is sound.
Every time you walk
up that hill.
Eyes marveling,
lying flat,
staring down God.
If he’s game,
If he’s out there.
You have to wonder
if it’s safe to dwell here;
with your mind wrapped up in wonders,
feeling the Earth shrink
beneath you.
You have to wonder
if it’s wise 
to let yourself
feel so insignificant;
with insurmountable, 
unknowable energies
playing games with 
feeble lives. 
What reason is there to rise?
Better to be devoured.
Better to beat them to the punch. 
Better to join them.
You're destined for the stars as it is,
with that mind too expandable 
for the confines of Earth.  

Prompt -"Deep space is my dwelling place, the stars my destination" 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cancer is a Bitch.

I have been wanting to write something about cancer for awhile. I wrote a bit on it when this all started and I haven’t written anything since. It would seem there’s a block. I don’t want to think about it too in depth just yet, in the same way you don’t talk about a frightening landing on an airplane until you’re safe on the ground. Rather, you hold your breath for the duration, don’t speak a word. Somehow it seems safer that way, avoidance. It’s funny how the brain protects itself. 
In some ways I have been dealing with Peter’s cancer at a distance. He doesn’t live with me so every other week I knew I could see him and on his off weeks he went home to have chemotherapy. Sure he lost some hair (not nearly as much as expected though!), he was pale and tired, but he never lost who he was. I can count on one hand the amount of times he seemed overwhelmed or depressed. I occasionally accompanied him to his treatment and watched him realize that despite his misfortune, he was relatively lucky. As he would say, he was going through this with a cure pretty much guaranteed, while others were enduring the trials of chemo with little to no hope. 
Despite the enormity of the whole situation, none of it has ever seemed real. I sometimes force myself to think about what his doctor said when he was first diagnosed in October, if he had waited much longer, he wouldn’t have seen the New Year. We would never have known anything was wrong and we would be in a much different situation. Losing him is something I can’t quite allow myself to think about, it’s a “what if” that despite being out of the question at this point and pretty much throughout this whole ordeal, is still too close to us, I can still feel it breathing down our neck.  
I’m suffocated by how fragile life is, it weighs down on me. We take people in our lives for granted, of course. How exhausting life would be if we lived in our highest expression of love for our family and friends at all times. So, we normalize. In doing so, we take those in our life for granted, we have to act as if they will always be there because if we didn’t, life could not go on..and that is what we are best at, living life. 
What I have learned most from being by Peter’s side during this is that life does go on. Ridiculous, incredible things can happen to you, things that would have been unimaginable in the past. People lose loved ones suddenly, they have a child with disabilities, they lose a major part of themselves physically or emotionally. Anything can happen. You keep going and you normalize. To Peter, it became normal that every other week he went to therapy and was filled with poison that was in some way saving his life and destroying it at the same time. To me, “cancer” became an everyday word, it became something I learned about, something I connected to others with, it suddenly became part of my identity as someone who has a loved one with cancer. And it will be with us for the rest of our lives. 
Embarrassingly, I have had my moments of selfishness. I have wanted so badly for all his treatments to be done and when I truly thought about it I was so anxious to get on with our lives. I’m learning to live in the moment and have patience. Patience is not my strong suit. Ultimately, while I still have the ability to work and move forward, Peter’s professional life is truly on hold while he finishes treatment. I at times need to redirect and refocus my anxiety, use my energy in a positive way. 
I believe that the only thing you can do in a difficult or tragic situation is to accept it, do not fight it, and choose to take something positive away from it. Any event in our life only becomes truly tragic when we don’t learn from it or allow it to change our lives for the better. For Peter and I, we have to focus on how lucky he is to have found his cancer before it was too late, his ability to now live his life healthfully and mindfully, and our new appreciation for the life we will have together, the one we easily could have lost. If you can take nothing away from your trials and tribulations, if you choose not to grow, that is the only real tragedy. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"You'se a BITCH, and your aunt's a BITCH!"

Some people may think that there is no need for feminism anymore, that a picture of Hillary Clinton sitting across the table from President Barack Obama as they watched the murder of America’s #1 enemy proves feminism was a success. No more need to to burn your bras, ladies. I feel the need to say that while this is incredible, there will never be a time that feminism is not needed. Need I remind you that during her campaign Ms. Clinton was berated for being too cold, showing no feminine softness, then when she cried it was “scripted” and “insincere”. There was always an undercurrent of snickering and someone at the ready to make the most obvious “blow-job” joke at any given moment. The media shifted their lens when they discussed Ms. Clinton and focused their judgements in relation to her as a woman, not as a political candidate, first. So, while some may call for a cease-fire to feminism, I say women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to the fight is far from over.  
I believe the main problem here is that so many of us fail to acknowledge that, like it or not, there are inherent differences between men and women. Our brains work differently, our bodies are made differently and what we lack we make up for in other ways. Rather than try to hide this fact, we need to take it head on. Women are different from men and should be celebrated for it. We are not better or worse, but we are different. Men have an inherent need to protect women, ok—I’ll buy it, but does it really mean that we shouldn’t have women fighting for this country because some namby-pants sissy man is going to cry over her if she gets hurt? Man up! (that’s right, I said it.) Women have something to offer every field and instead of fearing their differences, organizations like the military should welcome them and learn from them. 
As far as women making less money than men, I believe this comes down to the “bitch factor”. When women are aggressive and forceful in the same way that men are, they become inaccessible to their co-workers, they are not admired for their courage but dealt with as if they had thorns. Women have to walk a very fine line when dealing with men in positions of power. It seems as though men don’t know how to deal with a powerful woman, never mind encourage and reward her aggressive behavior. Furthermore, women are doing this to each other! I have met very few woman in power who are not mean and manipulative to their female co-workers, particularly those beneath them. Rather than work together and help each other succeed, we so often work against each other. Why? Is it because we’re afraid that there isn’t enough room for other women at the top?
I’m about to get real specific. I believe Kathie Lee Gifford and her talk show is a haven for everything women have fought against. This show is the death of feminism in a nutshell. (hyperbole, anyone?) Now, I believe Hoda was dragged into this mess and can’t escape the train wreck that is Kathie Lee, but that’s besides the point. Let me give you one example, They had on this woman who had written some book about how women need to stop worrying about their looks and be their natural selves. If you’re happy with who you are and love yourself as a person your own happy glow will shine through. After 5 minutes or so of this bullshit, Kathie Lee and her guest (obviously not that interesting because her book and name escape me) discuss how fat their arms look on TV and how they feel disgusting in whatever dress their stylist had put them in. HYPOCRITE! How can you not see that you literally just threw away everything you were trying to do/say?

Feminism at it's finest. That's sarcasm, ok. Sarcasm.
Lastly, I can’t imagine raising a young woman today. The kinds of things that are said in songs, particularly hip hop, (click here for Usher’s latest “respect for females” song) the messages that are sent out in various young adult shows and books....the fact that we allow someone like SNOOKI to be on television and we celebrate her (what the hell is wrong with us)...your only defense would be to somehow raise a young woman who, amongst all the crap, is able to see her worth. Who judges herself not based on her clothing, and what MEN think of her, but finds a way to navigate her own self worth through her intellect and moral compass. This can’t be easy. Not to mention the constant barrage of people who RUN OUR COUNTRY proving just how much they disrespect the women in their lives. Edwards cheated on HIS DYING WIFE, Arnold has a whole other family, Weiner thinks we all want to see his junk....I mean c’mon, that’s just the tip of the freakin’ iceberg. 
We can get as mad as we want about men disrespecting us and all the terrible things that happen to women, but it won’t matter until we risk being labeled a “bitch” and demand their respect. We have to refuse to be treated this way and raise our young men to treat women with respect and raise our young women to accept no less. We have to instill them with courage, because they will need it. 
America is not a level playing field, sure, it’s a hell of a lot more level than other places in the world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop fighting for more. We are paving the way for our daughters and granddaughters..don’t we owe them more than “16 and Pregnant”?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mmm Whatcha Say

Alright, so maybe I’m a bit out of touch with the current rap world, but I have never heard of this rapper Lil B. Have you? Correction, I hadn’t heard of him until yesterday. I read an article that discussed his decision to name his album “I’m Gay” and the onslaught of publicity (and death threats) he received because of it. 

(Is this a new trend in the gay community that I'm unaware of?)

“Great”, I thought, “a ‘cool’ black male representing the gay community, what courage.”. As far as gay black men go, there aren’t very many of them who are out and vocal enough to support each other and the few that I know find it very hard to assimilate their culture with their sexuality. Not that I have any idea about the plight of a gay black man, but I can imagine that in a world that champions hip hop and rap with heros such as Kanye West and Jay-Z, it’s probably a little hard to come out to your friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love these musicians, but they sweat testosterone. 
Anyway, I was totally wrong. This kid is pulling a complete and total publicity stunt. I think it’s rude and (bottom lining it) ignorant. Lil B (original name, btw) claims that he is not coming out, but simply using the word “gay” for its original meaning: “happy”. He’s just a real happy guy and apparently only strict definitions of words matter to him, connotations are for losers. As he put it so eloquently, “Some people worried about [...] the definition of words and shit. First of all, gay means happy.” Thanks, Webster.  Wonder how good his raps are. 
What Lil B did do, completely by accident, is draw attention to how our nation still reacts to the gay community, and how words (definitions and connotations) carry a lot of weight. Which brings up an intriguing what extent is it our responsibility to choose our words based not on what we intend by them, but how they are perceived and understood? 
First off, it’s ridiculous but unsurprising that Lil B received death threats for his “I’m gay” claim. Granted, the forum for his unintentional “coming out” is similar to Sarah Palin sporting an “I love Kucinich” sticker at a Tea Party rally, but the fact remains that there is still a whole lot of hate in our country. In my opinion, we encourage and allow this behavior by not allowing equality in marriage and by letting it slide that political leaders like Michele Bachman (click that link, it's hilarious) and Newt Gingrich support groups like The Family Leader. 
(side note: The Family Leader is a group that has stated it is proud to be a “hate group” and considers Matthew Shepard’s death a necessary victory for their cause). 

It is our responsibility as individuals and as a community to speak out against hate. All kinds of hate towards are fellow citizens, or better yet, our fellow human beings. We live in a time where hate should be unacceptable. I am not talking about taking away freedom of speech and disallowing people to voice their concerns, but speaking out as an individual against violence and hate can go a long way. 
(can't we all just get along?)

Moving on, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about words and their meanings (nerd). There are plenty of words that have developed in their meaning from a banal definition to an incendiary and hurtful connotation. Faggot, retard, nigger (are you offended yet?) even the word gay went through a period of negative connotation. However their level of offense is certainly different. For example, it took me awhile to decide if I would even type the word n***er or whether I would star it out, as I did here. The word is so inflammatory, and so hurtful and offensive that I personally am not comfortable saying it in any scenario. The many times I find myself quoting Chappelle Show, I tiptoe around the word, avoiding it at all costs. I know in the black community there is a lot of debate as to whether the word should be used at all. The fact remains that the word, while still maintaining it’s power in most settings, has developed another connotation meaning “friend”. 
I also find the word faggot extremely offensive, I personally chose not to say it and would prefer not to hold company with those that do. I do not however, find it has quite the same effect as the “n” word. 
While still offensive but not quite as incendiary is the word “retard”. Tim Shriver’s recent campaign to end the use of this word has brought a lot of attention to this one. Now I can’t pinpoint why exactly this word packs less of a punch than the others. Is it because the connotation and denotation are essentially the same? Shouldn’t that, in theory, make it more offensive? Is it because the group that is being offended is not the target of vehement hate? 
Whatever the case my be I believe that we are responsible for our actions and we are well aware of the connotation of these word. If we use them, we use them with the intention to hurt, we use them with hate behind them. At the extreme end of this spectrum we have complete responsibility for our words, but as things get more unclear, our level of responsibility becomes questionable. For example, I remember in college signing a line to a rap song that consisted of referring to someone as “boy”. I was immediately informed by my friend that I shouldn’t use that word because it contained connotations of slavery. Who knew? Well not me in my sheltered little world, anyway. So without the knowledge and intention behind the word, how can it possibly contain the same amount of offense?
Let’s bottom line it. Unfortunately we are not judged by our intentions, but by our actions. Whether Lil B was trying to draw attention to the plight of the gay community is ultimately irrelevant because his actions implied that he’s just trying to garner publicity. All we can do as individuals is choose not to use language that promotes hate. Where language gets hazy and connotations blend into each other, it comes down to your decision as an individual how you would like to be perceived. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

"You've Got to Admire Them All for Their Courage"

I don’t know if it’s stupid or beautiful, but so many people in this crazy city have yet to give up hope. They audition, draw, write, dance, sing, day after day and yet, even when there is no response, even when no one is around to see or feel their work, they press on. These people, they choose a life of uncertainty. They decide at some point “I will devote a certain amount of my life (sometimes a year, sometimes 12, sometimes a lifetime) to pursuing this dream that digs at my soul.” They choose, most often knowingly, to lose the closeness of loved ones, to risk having to give up everything, to chance the “other side” of life being lost to them. The “other side” being the husband/wife, picket fence, happy dog and steady paycheck. All of this is secondary to the “dream”. For some the dream is fame, for some the dream is insane fortune. These are the people that fade out. The people that give up for something more “realistic”. For most of us, however, the dream is producing something that we recognize as art. The dream is being able to skillfully take the ideals that we believe in so fiercely and turn them into a story, a picture, a play. To “smash the mirror” as Pinter would say, as show society what it really looks like. The desire is to communicate these things to both an intrigued and knowledgable audience as well as an unconcerned and unknowing public. To open eyes. To teach each other. To be energized and invigorated by our work because we are changing the world. Even if it’s our own little microcosm. And we are, or should I say we will, change the world.  
Here’s a beautiful poem by Bukowski, that explains these sentiments much better than I ever could:
A Sickness? Charles Bukowski
yes, I'm a Romantic, overly sentimental,
something of a hero worshipper,
and I do
not apologize for this.
instead, I revere Hemingway,
at the end of his endurance,
sticking the
barrel of the gun into his trembling
and I think
of Van Gogh slicing off part of his ear
for a whore
and then blasting himself away in the
then there was Chatterton drinking rat
poison (an extremely painful way to die
even if you are a 
and Ezra Pound dragged through
the dusty streets of Italy in a cage
and later confined to a 
Celine robbed, hooted at, tormented by
the French;
Fitzergald who finally quit drinking only to drop dead
soon thereafter;
Mozart in a pauper's grave;
Beethoven deaf;
Bierce vanishing into the wastelands of Mexico;
Hart Crane leaping over the ship's rail and
into the propeller;
Tolstoy accepting Christ and giving all his
possessions to the
T. Lautree
with his short, deformed
and perfectly developed
drawing everything he
and more;
D.H. Lawrence
dying of TB
and preparing his own Ship of Death
while writing his
great poems;
Li Po
setting his poems
on fire
and sailing them down the
Sherwood Anderson dying
of peritonitis
after swallowing a
(he was at a party
the olive went in,
toothpick and
Wilfred Owens killed
in the first Great War
saving the world for
Socrates drinking
hemlock with a
Nietzsche gone mad;
De Quincey addicted to opium;
Dostoevsky standing blindfolded before a 
firing squad;
Hamsun eating his own
Harry Crosby commiting
suicide hand in hand with his
Tchaikovsky trying to
evade his homosexuality
by marrying a female
opera star;
Henry Miller, in his old
age, obsessed with
young Oriental
John Dos Passos going
from fervent left-winger
to ultraconservative
Aldous Huxley taking
drugs and
reaping imaginary
Brahms in his youth,
working on ways
to build a powerful
because he felt that
the mind
was not
Villon barred from Paris,
not for his ideas
but rather because he was a 
Thomas Wolfe who felt he couldn't
go home again
he was
and Faulkner:
when he got his morning mail.
he'd hold the envelope up
to the light
and if he couldn't see
a check in there
he'd throw it
William Borroughs who shot and
killed his
(he missed the apple
on her
Norman Mailer knifing his
wife; no apple
Salinger not believing
the world was worth writing
Jean Julius Christian Sibelius,
a proud and beautiful man
composer of powerful music
who after his 40th year
went into hiding and was seldom
nobody is sure who 
nightlife killed Truman
Allen Ginsberg becoming a 
William Saroyan marrying the
same woman twice
by then
he wasn't going anywhere
John Fante being sliced away
bit by bit
by the surgeon's knife
before my very
Robinson Jeffers
(the proudest poet of them all)
beggin letters to those in power.
of course, there's more
to tell
and I could go
on and on
but even I
(the Romantic)
begin to
still, these men and women
--past and present--
have created and are creating
new worlds for
the rest of us,
despite the fire and despite the ice,
despite the
hostility of governments,
despite the ingrown distrust of the masses,
only to die
and usually
you've got to admire them all
for the courage,
for the effort,
for their best and their
some gang!
they are a source of light!
they are a source of joy!
all of them
heroes you can be
grateful for
and admire from afar
as you wake up
from your ordinary dreams
each morning.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Avenue A Inspiration

Avenue A Inspiration

I find you most beautiful at night.
You still reek of life while the rest of the world
wastes their time with sleep.
You have no patience for such frivolity.
Whiskey dreams maybe,
but only wide awake.
You have hearts to feed and 
minds to rattle.
Wiping tears with neon lights
you drag people through their darkness,
hit them with such life
they can barely catch their breath.
At 2am you’re stunning. 
Still looking like daytime
yet somehow austere.
With clamoring silence 
I can walk through your streets
heartened that there’s a subway handy
or a coffee within reach. 
Despite my deepest demons 
you welcome me with open arms. 
A selfish lover
You take all and leave so little left.
Perhaps you’ll be the death of me
but i’m sure it will be lovely.