Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Rabbit Hole

I met two random men on a two different buses last night. One was middle-aged, bearded and carrying a guitar case; the other was "probably the same age" as me. (When I pressed, it turned out he was four years older.) Both of them may or may not have just smoked a joint or something more, and seemed eager to tell me how much they had just enjoyed a Chris Cornell concert. Both conversations were incredibly vapid, as chance meetings with strangers tend to be, and  the first one culminated with the older guy pulling the unstrung guitar out of his case and holding up a signature of the man/myth/legend for all the bus to ignore. I felt a twinge of pity. Then I got off the bus, because neither of those clowns matter in the long run. But their random desire to bring me into their experience did leave me thinking a bit about my identity as pseudo-grunge kid, and the tools I use to define myself.

It seems lately my Facebook feed is being blown up by questions of identity. Gender identity, sexual identity, political identity, familial identity, job identity - all that adult shit. And despite the fact that I see no need to parade my station before the world in specific "life events," I have begun to see my own identity crystallize around me. There's a sense of community about Vancouver Island, a sense of community I wilfully ignored as a university student, but one that, having hashed out a life here since, has become more readily apparent. It's a small-town mentality: banter with your churchgoing sandwich-maker, discuss your life decisions with the dude you see on the bus every day, get to know your bartender on a first-name basis. These pockets exist the world over, of course, and like anywhere, there's a pool of strangers-cum-friends-cum-acquaintances who form degrees of separation. Beyond that, the municipalities blend into one another because we're isolated from the rest of the country by a moderately imposing stretch of Pacific Ocean. And within that ever-shrinking world, I've started to arrive at a crystallized stage. Now, looking back at my love for Badmotorfinger, I no longer need to be a grunge kid, or wannabe grunge kid, or any other subset of a various number of scenes. I don't have to play guitar to hold down a conversation with someone who has a passing interest in 90s rock; I'm no pool pro, but having a tab at my regular bar game is the next-best thing; I don't make enough money, but I have a job I like that I chose for unique reasons, and an apartment which provides the technological necessities for the life that I lead. When I walk around in jeans and a t-shirt and a neighbourhood regular calls me "sir," I no longer take it ironically.
But then I wonder if who I have become is more than just the sum of its parts, because in a world of my own making there's no room for new perspectives or experiences. I don't listen to Katy Perry because I don't particularly like Katy Perry, but today I stumbled across an article that documents her new record as a failed coming-of-age experience, and I enjoyed that. From there, I thought that maybe I should listen to Katy Perry - and then I did, and wished I hadn't. But Katy Perry isn't really the point. The point is the limiting of potential experiences, the idea of settling down without really living. The more comfortable I become, the more resistant to that which doesn't fall under my little sports/niche culture umbrella, and that worries me.

Pop culture is an enormous, amorphous, mostly unnecessary entity, but it's also kind of fascinating. And if Katy Perry is the queen of modern teen idols and I don't understand why people like her, how am I supposed to understand Miley Cyrus' bizarre (and maybe kinda meta/kinda cool) coming of age? (Why I should care is perhaps a more legitimate question, but looked at under that prism, sports are just artificial competitions with predetermined potential outcomes.) I may not give a shit about gossip-magazine shame culture, but I am interested in the dissection of art, and pop art is important in what its popularity says about the world.

But what are the damn kids saying these days? Last week, again on the bus, I ran into a pretty blond on her way to see an electronic duo who happen to hail from my hometown of Toronto. I asked her who Zeds Dead were. She stopped at my seat and stared down with her jaw slack, giving me the exact look I give people who tell me they've never owned a computer. I Googled them later and found out it's a pair of kids who started producing three years after I left, so maybe I would have heard of them had I stayed in Toronto. But then again, maybe I wouldn't have. It's the miracle of the digital age that one person's lifeblood is another's greek, but what else are we missing out on?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writing existence

I was six or seven years old when I had the epiphany that most gloss over and some never experience at all. I exist, I realized. Not only is there a thing that exists, but that thing is me, and that's unbelievably awesome. And this early realization drove my curious mind into some philosophical netherland, raising questions that I still haven't really learned how to elucidate, let alone answer, twenty years later. What is the self? Why do I myself have this consciousness as opposed to the millions of other potential selves? How does this apparent consciousness relate to this physical body I seem to have control over? How does this awareness belong to me? How is this consciousness, so finite that it never would have existed but for a one in a million shot, and will undoubtedly cease to exist within the next century, real? (Of course, these are issues that excessive italics and rhetorical questions will forever fail to grasp.)

My parents told me to let them know if I ever found the answers for the unknowable questions I was asking. But I never abandoned them, and as I developed from an angsty teen into a university student who understood their patent absurdity, my frustration with the questions changed - it wasn't the lack of answers that bothered me, but the total disinterest most of the human race seemed to have in the questions. How can so many worker ants fail to pause and reflect on the miracle that their perception belongs to no one but themselves and thus is totally unique?

I took creative writing rather than philosophy at school (though I did take a few introductory Philo classes that drove me as far away from that academic field as possible) and in the course of my studies I did focus more on structure and clarity than meaning. But all the while I was critiquing other people's plot dynamics or character inconsistencies, in my own writing I could never get away from some level of two-bit philosophizing. All I wanted to do was write existence. So I tried really hard to do that. And I failed pretty hard at first. Early on, responses ranged from "cool phrases but what the fuck is going on?" to "this is a big mess of words but why should I care?" As my university career progressed, the world-building improved marginally. Instead of throwing up their hands with a "huh?", my classmates would scratch their eyebrows and say something like, "But did he go into the apartment or didn't he?" when the apartment in question was intended as a red herring anyway. Yet still I often received critiques which boiled down to, "I don't understand why this story has any significance because it doesn't address any important issues." Important issues? I wanted to scream. I'm writing about the meaning of life, you fuckwit!

But now as I look over my unpublished catalogue, wondering whether to throw it out or send it out, the one question I keep coming back to is the same: how do I frame the question? How do I make people understand what I'm writing about so that it seems as important to them as it seems to me?

I've recently been turned onto a new Showtime show called Shameless (an American remake of a British original). It's about six enterprising offspring of an inner-city alcoholic, raised mostly by an older sister and partly by no one, who engage in constant debauchery to make rent. At first its patent ridiculousness turned me off, but as I've been drawn into it I've come to see its philosophical underpinnings. Its slapstick drama is not ridiculous because the show is masquerading as a comedy; it's absurdism, utterly unrealistic and yet entirely plausible. In the episode I most recently watched, the alcoholic Frank Gallagher (played totally over-the-top by William H Macy), berates his ten-year-old son for asking for a room at his stepmother's:
Every day you wake up breathing you should be calling me in a thank you note of gratitude that the half of you that came from me wasn't splooged on your mother's neck but instead was guided by yours truly to get up inside of her to start the life of you. So walk and talk with gratitude son.
Straight from the asshole's mouth like a truth bullet. No one empathizes with Frank on the show, but in his own self-absorbed way he's dead right. Your life belongs to no one but yourself, and you should be grateful that it happened at all. At the end of the day, it's little truths like this, camouflaged as they may be by the bullshit of human experience that surrounds them, that fascinate me. And maybe in a way that's why the show's vices draw me in and reflect the same debaucherous fiction I try to write. Destitution fascinates me because all human struggle boils down to the same damn thing. Childlike wonder.

Sometimes when I look over my writing, I'll realize how foolish it all seems. How mundane, how everyday, how naive. I know that what I'm trying to do is write an adult world filtered through that same wonderment that Frank is trying to instil in his homeless child. But how can I force a reader to wilfully subject himself to that idea and find pleasure in it? How can I communicate the incommunicable? I suppose I could write an epigraph that explicitly directs the reader to read everything in the ironic voice of an existentialist and recognize going in that all plot is subjective nonsense, but that seems like cheating. My goal, in either blowing up old stories or writing new ones, has to be to find a way to draw a reader into the fiction without losing grasp of the absurdity. Not to tell people how to read it, but to make the reading of it the whole point.

The next frontier, of course, is the internet. The internet is a world unto itself of subjectivity and chaos and the limits of human understanding.
But I admit I'm not quite ready for that. I'm still, somewhere deep down, wishing for a resolution. Rituals, predictable outcomes, safe spots - the places the worker ants go to escape the existential questions. Because too much chaos just makes my head spin.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hey folks, long time no see.

Trying to get off the schneid here, as I haven't updated my old blog in over a year. Though I'd still love to do some serious writing about baseball, I envision this as more of a hybrid - general sports, life experiences, philosophical musings, less angst and fewer run-on sentences. Blog title is a nod to an awesome artist:

And the header photo is from a Mike Brodie's unbelievable train hoppers series.