Saturday, January 31, 2015

(How Do You Talk to a) Porn Star (?)

In college, I encountered a social situation I never thought I’d experience in my life. It’s not the kind of scenario you expect to be confronted with when you lead a fairly pedestrian, upstanding life. As a result, I didn’t know the proper etiquette for it.

I was in a friend’s dorm room with a bunch of people, most of whom I didn’t know very well. A very attractive girl I’d never met came in with a guy I assumed was her boyfriend. She was very excited, because a magazine had just published her “work.” She was a holding a copy of the magazine and handed it to one of the people sitting there.

At this point in the story I feel it’s important to mention that the magazine was what is often referred to as a “nudie magazine,” and her “work” was posing in the nude for photographs. At the risk of being labeled “sex-negative,” I have to admit that I was truly at a loss as to how to address this contingency socially.

The group, which was composed of both young men and young women, passed around the magazine and vocally admired her work. The women were especially lavish in their praise, gushing over the pictures and how good she looked in them. I was last in line for the magazine, a fact I appreciated for the extra time it gave me to formulate a plan of action.

But when my turn came, I was still lost, adrift on a sea of anxiety, stuck in a pickle that would’ve confounded Miss Manners herself. Even in everyday situations, my behavior generally ranges from somewhat awkward to curl-up-and-die awkward. I’ve even given myself a nickname: Captain Awkward.

So believe me when I tell you that the awkwardness of this particular moment was off the charts. In a life filled with awkward moments, this one immediately ascended into my personal pantheon of excruciatingly painful awkward moments.

I took the magazine and paused. Before I continue, let me assure you that, in that instant, it honestly seemed rude not to look. So I flipped through her pictorial. If I were to describe those nude photos, the word “tasteful” would figure prominently, although perhaps not as prominently as the adverb-adjective pair “eerily mundane.” The pictures didn’t even seem particularly erotic to me. She wasn’t posed suggestively, unless she was trying to suggest the relentless good cheer of a beauty pageant contestant.

She was smiling broadly in every photo and standing confidently, though a tad stiffly, like a cheerleader posing for a senior portrait. Every pose seemed to say, “Hi there! I’m not wearing a top! What’s new with you?” or “I’m in a nudie magazine yet I still seem well-adjusted. Pleased to meetcha!” The target demographic was apparently men who fantasize about having sex with future HR middle-management types, real go-getters.

I flipped through them as quickly as I could. But I didn’t want to look like I was just going through the motions. Nor did I want to linger over them too long for fear of appearing inappropriately enamored of her naked body. After ogling her for what seemed like a polite amount of time, I closed the magazine and handed it to her. 

I had my default face on, so I probably looked stern and mildly annoyed. She was wearing a similar expression, as if to say, “Who are you?” and “Why are you looking at naked pictures of me?” I said nothing, but if she’d posed that second question, my only honest response would’ve been, “It seemed like the thing to do at the time.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Privilege of Sorrow

I was sitting alone in my parents' car after seeing The Imitation Game (a movie) at Rosedale (a mall) on Saturday night. The huge parking lot was nearly empty. Only a few other people were wandering back to their cars. And I thought, "What a gift it is to be sad and lonely." I found a pen and fished the notebook out of my backpack to capture that melancholy. When I used to luxuriate in sadness, I would scold myself for mocking the despair of others. But now I understand the privilege of sorrow.

The worst feeling in the world isn't pain; it's nothing. Because then you are all alone. You're no longer a member of the human race. You're on your own. You're bereft and cast off, left to tumble through the void without an anchor, without any bearings, so you have no idea how far you've fallen. At least with pain you know what you want to do and where you want to be. When you're numb, you have no desire to do anything or be anywhere.

Do you know what it's like to be so overwhelmed by pain that your heart just shuts down? Do you know what it's like to be so afraid of your feelings that your mind won't let you feel them anymore? Do you know what it's like to be driven insane by your own brain? It's taken a lot for me just to get back to a baseline happiness that allows me to feel emotions normally again. And let me just say: It's good to be back.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Unemployed Adventures of Some Guy

(Author's Note: This is something I dashed off last summer. I'm hoping it will add a little levity.)

The loneliness of the long-distance runner is nothing compared to the loneliness of the writer. I need Twitter to get the gears turning. Where is the inspiration of yesterday? I should always take a notebook to the cinema or the theater. 

Unemployment used to be such a fertile time for me. The world used to open up like a flower when I wasn’t working. I usually didn’t take advantage of it very well, but at least it felt like my oyster. Now the need to pay the bills and figure out what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life are pressing down upon me, even though I’ve got a tidy sum in the bank. 

That frees me from financial urgency, but it doesn’t solve the deeper problem of figuring out what to do. And really that question obscures an even deeper one: To what community will I belong, i.e., who will be my friends? Don’t confuse this with a pathetic plea for companionship. I’ve rejected many potential friends. My tastes are particular. You could call me a friend snob. 

I continue to write and still the coffee shop’s WiFi network refuses to grant me internet access. To what god can I appeal? Which deity will hear my lamentations?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Child

There is a perception that artists are immature and emotionally stunted, trapped in a state of arrested development. It's difficult to avoid this trap as an artist, considering the degree to which one must preserve a child-like sense of wonder and play. I know I have embodied the stereotype, given my propensity to indulge my impulses and subsume adult responsibilities to the (perceived) demands of my muse.

In case you're wondering, I've always considered Thalia my main muse. She's the Muse of Comedy and Pastoral Poetry, a.k.a. "the Funny/Ugly One." But there are plenty of other muses to whose call I beckon: Clio, the Muse of History; Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy; and Urania, the Muse of Ass Play. (The last one is actually the Muse of Astronomy. Sorry for any confusion or awkward talks with your kids.)

It's a delicate balancing act to try and maintain one's creativity as an adult, especially in these times. (I wonder how many times I've typed "in these times" in my blogs so far. I don't remember doing that at all before our economy began its descent into the crapper.) I had to restrain my passion at my clerical jobs, because my work was so mind-numbing and I found the corporate mission so repugnant. My mind revolted at the thought of what I was contributing to (e.g., The Crash of '08), but in order to keep doing the job (and paying the bills) I had to repress those feelings.

As a result, my creativity took a hit. By blunting my emotions, I had dulled my artistic senses. The words didn't flow out of my pen like they used to, and I lost the sense of wonder I'd grown up with. At the same time, I became angrier and more pessimistic. My salvation came from realizing that my anger was, in the main, redirected sadness. By learning how to grieve, I've reconnected with my creativity, along with my hope and emotions.

Channeling that rage into grief has helped a lot, but it still doesn't solve the problem of trying to find a spiritually rewarding day job. Those seem to be harder to come by these days. Just finding a job that doesn't violate my principles or put me to sleep has become a wild-goose chase. Our society either needs to stop cranking out artists or start cranking out meaningful, stimulating jobs.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Life on the Back Burner

I don't know if there's an old saw about not blogging when you're angry, but they're probably should be. The problem is that anger is the fuel of art, or so says the author of The Artist's Way. Therefore, the artist has to strike when the iron is hot, even if the sparks are hot enough to burn him and those closest to him.

As you may have guessed, I'm feeling a bit perturbed at the moment, but not so much that I'm blind with rage. What's on my mind is the recurring theme of my post-college life: losing touch with friends. In fact, the only friends who've kept in touch are those who are not active artists. This has led me to believe that the stereotype of the flaky artist is well-deserved.

But I know that my artistically-inclined friends are busy trying to make ends meet and follow their muse at the same time. I just don't understand why they can't drop me a line once a month or quarterly or maybe every blue moon or so. I'm willing to take a back seat to Art, or the significant other, or the baby/ies, but could you at least let me know that you're still cognizant of my existence?

Too many friends have put me on the back burner. After the amount of these friends reached critical mass, it was inevitable that I would start taking it personally. I've been forced to take a hard look in the mirror and wonder if I'm a good friend. There have been friends I've flaked out on, but they tend to be the ones who stick around. The friends I've been most devoted to are generally the ones who fade away.

I know I've blogged about this before, and it didn't seem to do me any good then, so I'm not sure why I'm going back to this well when it's clearly empty. (I think I've even used that metaphor with this subject before.) It must be an eternally-springing hope that my friends will see the error of their ways and come back to me. But this feels like a pointless effort.

I feel like I've been left behind on the road to adulthood. It's as if my absent friends found their lane through art or family, while I got stuck in a rut and became stranded on the side of the road. There seems to be a wide gulf between those of us with meaningful jobs and/or families and those of us without those things.

I'd like to remind those of you who have been blessed that not all of us have been so fortunate. It's cold and lonely on the back burner. If you leave us back there too long, don't be surprised when you look for us and we're gone. Hopefully, we've found someone willing to keep us on the front burner.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Personal (and as minimally Political as I can manage)

I've been blogging for almost a decade. You can find my previous work at Riding the Rubicon, the link to which appears on the right side of this page. That forum has hosted all my ruminations, be they political, personal or pointless (or all of the above). But, from this point forward, I would like my personal essays to have a blog of their own. This blog shall be their home henceforth.

I often have difficulty segregating my personal experience from all the other subjects that crop up in my work, but I should be able to identify those writings in which I am the primary subject and those in which I am not. Fingers crossed!