Tuesday, July 24, 2007

May Day

"I ebb and you flow
It's uh, a bit screwed
But you can't catch my love" -- "May Day", UNKLE feat. Duke Spirit

Because naming gives you power over the enemy, even if that enemy is a piece of self-indulgent shite voice in your head no different in content from that wannabe goth chick submitting bad poetry about void and pain and eternity and whatnot, that voice that has made you act on every self-destructive impulse which has cost you friends and hours and takes you away from what makes you you, I hereby allow you to vent so bring you out into the light and fucking choke you until you sleep until the next time--

Because yeah, people do suck, and they will forget all the times you stuck up for them, despite the promises to yourself that you will not get involved because you can never solve their problems, only just become one of them;

Because yeah, the good will oft interred with their bones, while the evil will be met with "Well, since I know you want to hear this upfront, I don't appreciate you entering into conversations you were never in to begin with, and why are you trying to make people like you in the first place?";

Because yeah, maybe that voice you hear in your head that, "You know, there's a reason why you're thirty-four and your still not married, I hope to God I'm not you when I'm your age," has a reasonable basis;

Because yeah, the reason why she called you is because she knew you would pick up, and not because she missed you;

Because the only logical conclusion is that you aren't the good guy you think you are, you dumb prick, and maybe forced sterilization is too good for you;

So bring it all on, I admit I'm not perfect, but bring it all on. I haven't walked over the ledge before, and I'm not scared of it. So go ahead, show yourself. Whatever you fucking say, we're all stardust in the end.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vertical Desert

So if we're going to view the creative process as a scrapbook, gathering that patchwork of images and emotions until a coherent narrative presents itself, the last few months have unfortunately not yielded a depth of content. Instead, there are repeated images, repeated themes that fill page after page.

The first seems to be an extension of prior narratives about the loner and the desert. It begins with a ground-level tracking shot, the wheels of some old 70s car stopping. The door opens, and the black shoes that appear stamp the dust, caking the shine of the shoes and the crisp black pants with yellow. It is somewhere in Imperial County, near all the empty houses of the property boom that never appeared. I can feel the starch in the collar, the too cold of the car's AC, the spent freon on one side, and that bone-dry heat on the other. It's gone past not wanting to be here, and more into apathy. It is what it is.

Whereas the first image is bleached of color, harsh, white, the second image is night, dark, cold, damp. It begins in a spartan office at night, moonlight streaming in through the window. The city lights have gone stacatto, flickering. The figure in the office takes his cell phone out of his pocket. The phone flickers with the same pattern of the city lights. A slow smile on his face. The world goes slo mo.

So I stride out into the city. Slowly, the asphalt begins to crack underneath my feet. And the pieces start rising, floating next to me. Small explosions from buildings, and the shrapnel of windows, brick fly out and then slow around me. The white light from the street lamps keep flickering, and just deepen the shadows around me.

A group of men turn around the corner, with bats, with bricks, grin when they see me. The start running, swinging, and I grin back, dodging, twisting. I feel the impact of the back against my ribs, a sharp rabbit punch to the kidneys, but I also feel the satisfying crunch of nose cartilage against my knuckles, the wrenching of someone else's arm from its socket. And eventually, I have the bat in my hands, my tie askew, blood on my lips, but my body isn't the on the ground.

And so I continue this walkabout. And as the streetlamps go off behind me, there's someone walking towards me, grinning too through grime, bruises, dirt, her business suit and pearls askew. Her cell phone is going off in the same stacatto. And as the lights finally go out, we both lean into each other.

And then there are the repeated themes in my dreams. Crossing many bridges. Getting lost. More bridges.

I do get that urge to reconnect, and sometimes my unwillingness to just suffer through a night of clubbing and empty conversation makes me sad. So I try to reconnect with myself instead, put away any thoughts of the law, listen to some Chris Whitley, remind myself of who I am.

I try to tell myself that the river moves forward, and so should I. I think back to one night in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, and actually seeing the Milky Way, or arriving at Yosemite near midnight with the silhouette of El Capitan standing ominous and eternal over the valley. And I pull back, seeing the Earth, further out, past the Kuiper belt, past the Western Spiral Arm, further and further, past the this local supercluster, beyond. This would make most people feel insignificant, but for some reason, it calms me.

It still doesn't calm me enough to stop that feeling though. I can tell myself it's just neurochemicals, or the product of that million year old reptilian part of my brain that the 10,000 year old neo-cortex is losing to. And I still see smiles, faces, memories. And it's tough to simply let it be.

So, tomorrow I'll continue my routine of reading the paper, getting some breakfast, watching a movie. And then I'll start the day after drinking my six cups of coffee, and pound through the week, trying not to let that reptilian part of my brain get away. And sometimes I'll slip, and I'll hear her laugh at quiet times, feel sad.

It is what it is.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

Usually, this is where the story would end. Martin Stark had left the Westside Riders without a demo made, less than a handful of gigs, and even less than a handful of songs fully written despite claiming to be a committed artist. Instead, he shuffled back to a life as a consultant in Deloitte & Touche LLP, assisting companies in their Sarbanes-Oxley compliance efforts. And like many former so-called committed artists in Los Angeles, Martin Stark was on his path to the mundane, work-a-day life, looking forward to business casual Fridays, solid financial planning, and engaging in the occasional minor sexual harassment. His settled friends viewed this change with some sense of relief, the man-child finally putting away his childhood things. And as for his artistic friends, although the official version is that Martin Stark walked away from the Westside Riders because he wanted more stability in his life, they would have viewed his decision with resignation if it weren't for the rumored mental implosion that precipated the breakup.

Of course, this article wouldn't have been written if that's where the story ended. Unbeknownst to his former artist friends and his suited co-workers, Martin Stark with all his new disposable income started buying high end mixing software and hardware, stocking up on old punk and motown vinyls. The margins of his legal pads from work were filled with quickfire lyrics in addition to the intricacies of securitites compliance. And so, there was a disconnect when "Riders on the Storm -- The Ian Curtis Remix" started filtering from diverse clubs as The Standard, Rage and The Falcon and onto local alternative radio station 103.1. One of the DJs said he received the mp3 from his promoter, who in turn said he received it from a friend at a record label, who in turn received it from someone he knew in legal.

It was only after the third single,"Last Goodbye from Motown," from this suit who knew someone in legal who knew the talent exec who knew Stanley's hairdresser ad nausuem started getting national airplay that Martin Stark reluctantly acknowledged that he was the man who crafted "Riders on the Storm -- The Ian Curtis Remix," "Debonair Gentlemen," and "Last Goodbye from Motown."

So, two years after the breakup of that barely remembered local band Westside Riders, it turns out that Martin Stark wasn't content to toil away in Willy Loman-like purgatory. In fact, in his original compositions, he had honed his lyricism--cutting out his overwrought maudlin excesses--which in turn accentuated the emotions behind the songs. With his mashups, something that was not in his repetiore with the Westside Riders, he crafted compositions that went beyond pure kitsch and that was better than ninety percent of original singles.

Neither Martin Stark nor the other former members of the Westside Riders granted interviews for this article. (Though Martin was incredibly polite despite my admitted exhuberant insistence.) Thus, this article begins at a disadvantage--though one thing can be said--maybe his decision to return to the office wasn't such a bad idea at all.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Do It Again

I've officially rejoined the ranks of the full-timers, the lawyers, the six-figurers, of never ending pissing contests they call litigation, of being able to afford everything I want but not enough time to pursue everything I need. And the first day will be like the last day, four cups of coffee before noon, three diet cokes before I go home, a couple of drinks to bring me down. But again, that paycheck makes everything warm and fine just for a bit.

And as I go back, I go back to the heart that has stopped wandering, but stopped at a station that is closed, the trains too late or too early, with a wee bit of hope that if I stay long enough, I'll reach that destination. But for now, I'll take some solace in hearing whistles over the horizon.
And I wonder, is this a change or a return?

"Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now were back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.

Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.

Then its back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Back where you started,
Come on do it again.

And you think today is going to be better,
Change the world and do it again.
Give it all up and start all over,
You say you will but you dont know when.
Then its back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
Come on do it again.

The days go by and you wish you were a different guy,
Different friends and a new set of clothes.
You make alterations and affect a new pose,
A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose.
But its superficial and its only skin deep,
Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep.
Get back, get back.

Back where you started,
here we go round again,
Back where you started,
come on do it again.

Back where you started,
here we go round again,
Day after day I get up and I say,
do it again.
Do it again.
Day after day I get up and I say,
come on do it again." --The Kinks, "Do It Again"

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why my writing group will hate me . . .

Yet another quote from one of my favorite writers, M. John Harrison:

"Ambiguities excite me mysteriously. I like any book or film or group of images that stacks them up then walks away. I'm overly stimulated by that, & indeed disappointed when an argument comes too far into focus. I don't want to be guided to conclusions, they're so often indifferent & boring. I want meaning lodged somewhere I can see it but not quite get at it, the way it is in a dream."

Dirtbag (Psycraft Remix)

"You've seem to mistaken me for someone who cares,I'm just a dirtbag under the weather . . ." Brad Sucks, "Dirtbag"

I'd been avoiding the fever clubs for the last couple of months, ever since the self-proclaimed contagion fashionistas dubbed H5N1 variants de rigeur. "Don't you know, darling, it's the Chinese Century, Chinois, c'est tres du monde, c'est tres chic." Fucking dilettantes, treating viruses as accessories. There's nothing sexy about the Asian Bird Flu or any of its variants, no fire, no heat, no beautiful dreams and visions. But hey, if mucus fetishism is your kink, liberte, man, liberte.

Me, I was riding some Rift Valley Fever. I had been burning and hard and righteous. I had the jones for some infection vectoring, that feel of fevered breath on fevered breath, the commingling of soft bodies on soft bodies feeding each other at 105 degrees. But no joy, no joy as all the infection kitties and pretties I knew were partying on the Bird Flu. But that's OK. James Watson unlocked the key of life by seeing the double helix in a dream, DNA as two intertwined serpents, and he had a baseline immune system with no infection. Rift Valley Fever provides such wonderful dreams with its burning.

I was content with my solitude and delirium, hearing the voices of the Seraphim while attending to the centrifuges, the electron microscopes, the bloodlines and gas chromatography. I was creating new strains by candlelight, the harsh whites of the computer screens and the dim orange flickers illuminating the lab. In the fever, even the antiseptic smell of disinfectants held a heightened meaning of promise and progress. I was going to see the face of God through the single-celled and spread his Gospel through RNA replication.

And when you do seek enlightment, the universe eventually provides.

I was examining a petri dish of agar and the white blooms of virus when Rose Choi called, all petulant and breathy. "Jack, I just had a marrow upgrade and feel all bruised and needy. C'mon Jack, come see about me."

Out came the feral grin, and I drove to L'Hopital Verte on Sunset and Vine. I was at the height of infection as I walked from the parking lot to the fever club, truly burning and righteous, an alternate Delacroix's angel with a fiery sword come back to let Adam and Lilim return to Eden.
Rose "la petite belle" Choi was standing under the green neon cross of the club's sign. She had kept her pink candy floss colored hair, those bangs in a jagged angle over green cat eyes. She was wearing a dark, schoolgirl jacket with a Union Jack at the lapel over a white t-shirt that read "Real Sluts Don't Brag" in red, a plaid mini-skirt and black knee high boots. Rose was Betty Page as remixed by a Hentai artist.

"Hey Fever Fucker," Rose said.

"Infection Slut."

"Sickie Molester."

"Contagion Whore."

Rose took her hand and held it an inch from my forehead. "My God, I can feel you from here." Then she purred, grabbed the back of head and leaned in for the kiss. I exhaled and she took it all.

When she broke off the kiss, she looked at me, saying "C'mon Jack, let's spread the disease."


If you ever read single author short story anthologies, there's always a section, either the preface or at the end, containing little blurbs about anecdotes about each story--how the story came about, revisions, alternate versions, etc. Most of the time it's the author's navel gazing, but once in a while, it's kinda cool to see the thought processes behind a story. Given that I haven't been published yet, it's a bit presumptuous for me to start entertaining ideas of writing one of those little blurbs, especially for something that may not make it into a story at all. But fuck it. So the following are the bits and pieces, the sketches, the flotsam that's been percolating in my head that have formed the bit of writing you've read above (given that this blog is set in backwards chron order).

A little over two years ago, I was waking up in the middle of the night hyperventilating from task dreams (you know the dreams, where your mind decides to focus on one thought or task--if I press the green button I will sleep, if I finish this memo I will sleep--so you press the green button in your dream or you try to type of this memo and your mind goes round and round and round). I was vomiting blood. I was out of breath after walking up half a flight of steps. I literally could not relax. It turned out that I had what is medically known as malignant hypertension. For you and me, that's incredibly fucking high blood pressure--a healthy blood pressure should be 120/80, and mine turned out to be 250/180. There was a good chance that I would be dead by now if I didn't go to ICU.

But also at that time, I had a steady, well-paying (if thoroughly mundane) contract gig. I had a woman who could (and who even still now, if I think about her too much) drive me to tears, but who, as we fell asleep listening to each other's breathing slow, would tell me "Come here baby. You have no idea how much I love you."

Now, well, after all the medication, my blood pressure is artificially low, too low often. I was at 90/50 a couple of hours ago. I'm light-headed, and if I stand up too quickly, I feel weightless. Instead of being unable to relax, my body has been jarring my mind awake--it's akin to that shock-like shudder when you're trying not to doze off while driving at 3am in the morning and your head, hell, your whole body snaps to keep you conscious until you can get to that rest stop. Those shudders have been happening to me all day, every few minutes. I still can't fall asleep, but when I do, I get wonderful, terrifying hyperreal dreams in crisp details, deep colors and such lovely, horrible, emotions.

And at this time, the contract gigs are dry. I have no one in my life who can either turn me tears or brighten my life with a single word, and yet my emotional health has never been better.

My new found mental stability comes through a conscious, deliberate effort to cut drama out of my life, to at most be a spectator instead of a participant in emotional toil. Being the type of person who is incredibly receptive to his emotions, a characteristic that, if left unchecked, can lead to irrational and self-destructive behavior, this attempt to lessen drama has meant taking a hiatus from looking for relationships. I need to make sure that I can maintain this newfound stability and control before I dive back into emotional entanglements.

But of course, the mind and the body is a dynamic system that also seeks equilibrium. Cut down on one impulse, and the body is going to shove back. And so the baser needs are getting stronger and stronger. So I'm feeding kink and the deviant by listening to the darker and sexier--Massive Attack, Recoil, Twilight Singers; by rereading the weird and the sensual--novels by Richard Calder and Steve Erickson; and of course, there's always porn.
So yeah, now you have the flotsam and jetsam that is feeding into a new character, a new scenario that I have in my head. I'm not sure if it's going to lead anywhere, but it's all about the journey, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nietzche on the Beach

"Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there."
J. G. Ballard

Recently, life was becoming metafictional again. It was bound to happen given the pile of read and reread novels steadily growing on my bedroom floor.

During the afternoons, I had taken to drinking steadily increasing amounts of coffee. I would be light-headed and slightly delirious by three o'clock in a state that I would imagine schizophrenics would suffer in the first day off of their medication. It was in this state that I would either reread novels that I had read ten years ago, or read new ones written by authors whose work I had read in twenty years ago in high school. This literary nostalgia was an attempt to break the ennui to which I had succumbed, which hampered any attempt at creativity recently.

I had begun reading one of the only novels by J. G. Ballard I found in Borders. The first time I had read his work was in high school. At that time, I had only read either cannons of literature assigned by an English teacher who blanched as my mention that "nunnery" in Hamlet was also a slang for whorehouse or straightforward genre fiction leaning toward space operas. I had not experienced life or literature enough to be able to explain why Ballard's works hit me so. Only later in life would I be able to explain the confluence of his simple, sharp language that served an unnerving view of modern society.

Two-thirds into the current novel, the protagonist had just been beaten by a group of men he recognized from the business park in which resided. "Entombed all day in their glass palaces, they relished the chance to break the heads of a few pimps and transvestites and impose the rule of the new corporate puritanism." Shortly thereafter, he witnessed the same men commit a violent breaking and entering in another neighborhood.

There is a fissure between the protagonist, who by no means is a saint, and the behavior he witnesses as he attempts to investigate the mass murder that had been committed by the previous resident of his home. A debauchery underneath the glittering modern houses of Cannes.

This is not to say that I have been ensconsed in any neighborhood intrigues, thrill assaults, or therapeutic sociopathy. Instead, I have begun to realize that there is a fissure between who I am and the daily wants of others. As I step back and examine my own motivations, I realized that much of tension in my own life springs from forcing myself to observe the debauchery of others, or perhaps more accurately, the underlying nihilism behind it. And yet, without these actions, life simply becomes the act empty act of killing second after second.

Monday, January 15, 2007

There There (Boney King of Nowhere)

"[O]xytocin is closely related to endorphins -- opiate-like brain chemicals -- and the agitation typically felt by lovers when they are separated from ones they adore may in part be due to their desire to push up their oxytocin level. Countless psychological studies have shown that people in the throes of this hormonal storm are more than usually divorced from reality[.] They are famously blind to the other's faults and often wildly over-optomistic about the future of the relationship. Looked at coldly, romantic love is a chemically induced form of madness[.]" Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind (76).

"Just 'cuz you feel it doesn't mean it's there." Radiohead, "There There (Boney King of Nowhere)

"It's all just fookin' chemicals." Begbie, Trainspotting

At the risk of sounding really L.A., I'll start out with a question my therapist has posed to me several times: What exactly is unrequited love?

Now, having been truly in love just once, I can replace "love" with "infatuation," "crush," "lust," or any other variant of affection/attraction, and it'll still be a valid question given that rejection sucks in any form. (And from my own perspective, it seems like a lot of people conflate those above concepts with love, but let's save that for another entry.)

At first, the question seems like a tautology--unrequited love is love that isn't requited. Duh. But if the question were so easily answered, there wouldn't be all those songs and books about lovelorn, and the amount of bloggers would probably drop by 80%. Why do humans sit there and pine away after folks who have, in no uncertain terms, say, "fuck off, I'm not interested"? Why do we inflict upon ourselves and others that wailing and gnashing, the self-pity, the crappy emo songs?

In any event, after being put in the spectator's seat for a while, and after getting some distance from the "Green-Eyed Debacle," I think I've come up with an answer. What is unrequited love? It's a neurosis.

One clinical definition of neurosis is the "poor ability to adapt to one's environment, an inability to change one's life patterns." Bit on the nose, isn't it? I mean, all that effort that goes into chasing and crying and sleepness nights even after you've been told "it ain't gonna happen" sure sounds like an inability to adapt to one's environment.

After being in the spectator's seat, and my dad's clumsy attempts to set me up on blind dates, I've come to see that unless there is some reciprocity, that search for attachment is like stapling your thumb, painful and rather pointless.

I know, this might be a long-winded way of saying, "There's more fish in the sea." But obviously, those cliches aren't that effective--you have to be rational for those cliches to work, and as oxytocin makes you anything but rational, cliches aren't of much use.

But when you realize that unrequited love comes down to a chemical imbalance, and when you're not the person currently experiencing it, you can put things in perspective. Well, at least I can, for now.

Call it passion, intense, or being just plain bugfuck, but I used to wear my emotions like a badge of honor. "Look at me, I'm a deep guy with deep emotions and something to say! Oh if they could only know the depth of my feelings, if only the universe were governed by the laws of desire!" Which is all fine and good if you're trying to write a drama, but kinda sucks in terms of living one.

Even when I knew the potential neurophsyiological underpinnings, I used to excuse it by the facile analogy to an alcoholic surgeon--he knows through his medical training that the alcohol has its effects by being able to cross the blood brain barrier, knows the damage it does to his liver, his mind, and yet it still doesn't stop him from shaking as he holds the scalpel or wanting another drink. It's a compulsion. And so, I knew all about the flood of oxytocin, the decrease in serotonin when it all went sour, and still I told myself if had meaning just to get me to the next bad choice.

But that analogy, other than being forced, is still flawed--that surgeon could get help and fucking stay away from the alcohol. And as for myself, I've come to realize that unrequited emotions have gotten me fuck all. With that realization, I cut those emotions--that skip in the heartbeat, that warm feeling from small things--as simply irrelevant if they aren't returned. That urge when looking in her eyes to lean in and believe that everything will be all right shall be severed and discarded unless she leans in too. It's all fookin' chemicals.

This isn't meant to be a bummer of a realization. Seriously, it's a step forward.

Anyway, if we're gonna run with at alcoholic surgeon analogy, I gotta go into detox, get my wits about me, and cleanse the system. This isn't a white flag, just a break. No looking unless looked at. No chasing unless chased. Ain't looking for anything more than friendship for now.

"There's always a siren
Singing you to shipwreck
(Don't reach out, don't reach out
Don't reach out, don't reach out)

Steer away from these rocks
We'd be a walking disaster
(Don't reach out, don't reach out
Don't reach out, don't reach out)"
--Radiohead, "There There (Boney King of Nowhere)"