Monthly Archives: April 2013

this time baby i’ll be bulletproof

4/29/13

As I said a few weeks ago, I spent the better part of last month in Italy, the first week being at a writer’s conference called Sirenland. I went knowing absolutely nothing about how it worked, knowing absolutely nobody, and in the end, it reshaped the way I think about conducting myself. Yeah, “youth is wasted on the young”, and epiphanies are wasted on those too old to use them, but occasionally one sneaks in whilst still relevant.

Sirenland is about writers, by writers, for writers, and yet I don’t think I took away a lot about writing – which in many ways, is the mark of true success. If you go to a comic convention and come away versed in love, if you take a class on glass-blowing and you come away knowing you must quit your miserable job… then you truly dipped your heel in sacred waters.

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Dating back to 2005, in many ways, I did LA all wrong again. I never considered it a home, and never made the proper effort to forge a community. In doing so, I sank into isolation and a well-documented occasional depression that brought up frightening spectres of my ghastly days as a kid. All that shit I’d conquered at Carolina, the emergence as a popular bon vivant from the depths of despair – I felt like I was losing it again, reverting once more to an awkward pariah.

In Positano, I learned – despite years of semi-self-imposed alienation – that I could still make friends out of total strangers, speak in public, make other human beings laugh across the room. Does that seem pathetic? Maybe so, but some of us are born needing 4 ounces more affirmation than others, and I’m no longer going to pretend I’m not one of them.

Sirenland also provided a huge service: it was a place that was unapologetic about Art. The commerce side of writing could wait; while you were in those marble rooms, gazed upon by busts of Etruscan leaders, it was about YOUR FEELINGS and YOUR WIZARDRY and HOW BEST TO DIVINE YOUR TRUTH.

Back in Los Angeles, we live lives of such apology and disclaimers and endless changes being made to satisfy accountants. You can live a long time in that world and not think it affects you, but it does. Everything you experience is coated with an imperceptible sheen of cynicism: even last Saturday night, as Tessa screened our short film, she introduced it as a “trifle” and I told somebody it was “too short to find anything to hate.”

The truth is, a lot of people worked really hard, especially my wife, and we love how it came out. But that would expose us, so we hem and occasionally haw.

Not so with Sirenland, where your artistry ruled supreme, detractors be damned. I started out the week suggesting everyone could benefit from a good old-fashioned outline and a clear journey for our protagonists, but soon enough, I just basked in everyone’s visions.

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A group of us became inseparable lunch and dinner partners, so much like school that old joys came seeping back. We were living in the most beautiful dorm in the world, and they made our beds.

Near the end, there was a shift in mood. Some friends had problems representing their experience to spouses back home, others bisolated into intense romances, one amazing woman expressed anger she couldn’t define, and I was certainly exhausted emotionally.

Since then, we’ve tried to define what happened: the woman thinks it was getting too “friendship-intimate” too quickly, another suggested it was the guilt of being surrounded by such opulence. For me, though, versed over years of Jartaculars and road trips, it was the knock-knock on the door of my old friend Shame.

Shame came to tell us that we weren’t allowed to be so close to your fellow tribe; that we weren’t supposed to use the Lavender Body Milk in the jacuzzi; that intense, glorious discussions like these were only for college students and drunk travelers in their 20s.

The convention was drawing to a close, Shame explained, and we were soon going to be back in our worlds, back where the only Art that matters is that which can generate income, and where your dreams take a distant back seat to those of your kids, and your goddamn job. Shame said he was going to make it easier for us, the re-entry, that he was going to grease the wheels of our spinner luggage and hold open the doors at the train station.

Shame told us it’s a cold world out there, and it’s best to keep your head low and don’t expose too much. He said nobody cares about your revelations and it was high time to get back to doing what everyone expects you to do.

Only this time I told Shame to fuck off.

 

gaudeamus igitur

4/24/13

Before I start boring you with my Feelings™, I’d like to put in a word about the deranged sorority girl email that went viral last week. I think she’s totally fucking hot, and so does my wife.

I like to think I have a unique perspective on this issue: the girl in question is the chair of her sorority; I was social chairman of my fraternity. We both went to ACC schools, both use impeccable grammar, and most of all, both of us make everyone around us suffer under the Tyranny of Fun.

I have spent DECADES of my life trying get people to do stuff, control-freaking my way into big adventures and small get-togethers, road trips, you name it. My efforts have been met with occasionally wild success, but mostly the general feeling that I was trying too hard.

One thing I was pretty good at, though, was the “themed fraternity party”. My particular frat was an odd mixture of the coolest guys at Carolina, the dorkiest spazzes in North America, campus leaders, and bizarre shut-ins. The one constant, as I saw it, was that everyone was basically funny, and participated in Greek culture with equal parts irony and genuine brotherhood.

But we were never going to be any sorority’s first choice; we were lucky to be picked third, past the usual phalanx of old-money houses from Charlotte, Greensboro and down east. Thus, to paraphrase Jane’s Addiction, we may have been skin and bones, we might’ve been pointy nose, but it motherfucking made us try. So when the usual cadre of snorting, guffawing, broke-dicks from our own fraternity lined the wall and made fun of the rest of us for jumping up and down to the Violent Femmes during the Boxer Rebellion Mixer, it made me want to fucking cunt punt them.

So yes, this sorority president from Maryland is a guttermouth rage-aholic who needs sensitivity training regarding “retarded” people and “faggots” (two words and ideas I extincted from my worldview in the late ’80s), and yes, her views on Mexicans will probably keep her out of the California Senate, but let me tell you this: SHE’S TOTALLY RIGHT.

Disregard the profanity and ask yourself: what is she really saying? It’s so easy to make fun of someone utterly wound up in their microcosms – but she would ask, as would I, exactly when are we supposed to stop caring about our immediate environment? How is “not giving a shit” working out for you?

Her language may be common and vulgar, but her theme is universal: Andrew Marvell said it to his coy mistress in 1650, Robert Herrick advised it to his virgins, even Horace, around 23 BC, told us: Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus (“Now is the time for drinking; now we dance barefoot upon the earth”).

She is carping her motherfucking diem, and we should all be so lucky to have someone in our lives giving such a damn. Those who can’t remember the past may be condemned to repeat it, but those who condemn the present will have nothing to remember.

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the Lodge, April 1987 – I’m near the bottom right, leaning back on The Budster

 

every shutter, every rooftop

4/22/13

I swore I would not write another blog until I finished this project I started in Rome: drawing the view from the apartment window of Nell & Jesse, who made the trip possible. You can’t tell from this panorama, but it’s almost 4 feet long, and it took 22 days of sketching, research, and buying pencils.

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click for bigger version

The image you see above is actually four pictures stitched together, taken from about five feet away… which makes it look much different than the original, but y’all should get the idea.

It was a welcome distraction, a secondary activity as I came back to a life I want to live a little bit differently. They say it takes the human body and mind 14 days to undergo a transformative change in a new place; I was gone almost 20, and I return to you a slightly altered person.

I’d rather be kicked in the face by a family of bison than hear about someone’s 3-week spiritual journey, or That Crazy Summer, or how you met some faith healer who gave you turmeric that becalmed your colon. So I won’t bore you with my own, except to share a few epiphanies:

I needed some kind of brotherly spiritual program. And so I have begun one, so far so good.

As a collective country, we are both sick and numb, and I don’t want to take part in that dialogue anymore.

Which leads me to…

I don’t like the way I have been thinking about this blog, and if I’m to keep doing it, I have to relinquish my attachment to what it once was, and go back to how it started.

More on all that as the week progresses. That is, assuming any of you are still reading, and because I’m abandoning my illusions, I shan’t be chagrined if you’re not.