Tag Archives: art

Je Suis Charlie

Je Suis
(Warning: normally I refrain from expressing my views on religion out of respect for my friends who are believers, but in light of the events in France yesterday, my views are central to this piece. Stop now if your faith is easily insulted.)

The biggest threat in this world, the one I have pushed against most of my life, is that of extremism. It comes in many forms, but the common denominator is intolerance for other people’s lifestyles or beliefs. On January 7, 2014, twelve people who worked for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by two Islamic extremists because the magazine had insulted their invisible man in the sky. Around the world, others who believe in different invisible folks in the sky saw this atrocity as proof of the superiority of their totems. Extremists to the left used it as an opportunity to once again renounce gun violence, while extremists to the right made sure to point out France’s restrictive gun control laws. Both sides, so convinced of their own divine authority of knowing THE one right way, missed the point: Intolerance ultimately leads to destruction.

Rather than galvanizing civilized people into a collective mass, this latest tragedy is further proof of just how fragmented and intolerant we truly are. Just this morning, the first item to appear in my Facebook newsfeed was a post ridiculing Al Gore because it’s cold over much of North America this week. The ignorance and short-sightedness of confusing weather and climate never cease to amaze me, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. Within minutes, this person’s post had filled with followers, either piling on with more insults for the 97.5% of climatologists who believe climate change is a real thing and man made or questioning the original poster’s intelligence. Per usual with these kinds of discussions, there was no dialogue, no discourse, no exchanging of ideas, just a further entrenching of deeply held beliefs.

Even though I am pretty much a non-believer – especially in religion and specifically in invisible men in the sky who want cartoonists murdered – I’ve always tried to be respectful of other people’s beliefs. After all, that’s what tolerance is all about, allowing other individual’s the right to worship or not as they see fit, to love the person they want (as long it’s a consensual relationship), and to view the world through whatever prism they deem appropriate. The scope of this tolerance ends when one person decides to impose their beliefs on others involuntarily. In free societies, you do not have the right to impose your will on someone else against their own will. This message applies to the extremists on both sides. In light of this most recent tragedy, I see little hope for bridging the gulf of extremist intolerance.

We as a species are heading for a major conflict if we do not find ways to communicate with each other instead of at each other. Because of the unimaginable power of the weapons we possess, our survival as civilized societies is at stake, possibly even the survival of our entire species. And I have no idea how to fix it at this point. I see no way to convince believers that our actions as people are not preordained by the will of whichever invisible person in the sky they worship, and I see no way to get the extremists on the other end to respect the right to believe. I fear the consequences of this steady march towards a worldwide war, because that is what we are approaching, and if this war ultimately erupts, it will be unlike anything humans have experienced before because of the deep fragmentation we have created and those weapons we possess. While little internet arguments over climate change may seem innocuous on the surface, the dehumanization of “the other” is just a symptom of that terrifying disease of intolerance.

Draxis Soaps

My friends Kevin and Sarah Jo are trying to expand their con circuit business. They make custom soaps with fandom themes. Please, take a look at their Kickstarter page and help them out. All levels of pledging receive samples. Kevin has been a big supporter of mine for several years, so I’d love to help drive a few backers his way. If you can, please help them expand their business.


Saturday Night Ramblings

I feel a cultural movement brewing.  For a few decades now, all of our music, books, and movies have been controlled by corporations more concerned with marketing and bottom-line profits than quality.  Much of my generation was locked out, not because we didn’t have the talent but because we didn’t fit into tidy marketing pigeonholes, and we languished for years, wondering if we’d ever get our shot.  Meanwhile, a new generation moved onto the scene, and many of us felt as if our moment had passed.  All our study, all our hours of practice, all of our passion, all of our dreams seemed wasted.  Some grew bitter and drifted away.  Some became consumed by demons and succumbed to addictions.  Some trudged onward.  Some of us did all of the above.

But something amazing happened with the burgeoning of the internet and computers.  Suddenly, we no longer needed New York and LA to pursue our dreams.  Suddenly, the corporations could no longer lock us out because as long as we had internet access we had a potential audience of millions, so many of us started our own labels, presses, and production companies.  Sure, at first we struggled.  As we wobbled on unsure legs, our early efforts might have seemed like bad parodies, but we learned from our mistakes and pressed onward.  We polished our chops, grew our networks, and expanded our base.  We survived our early stumbles and the Great Recession.  We banded together.  On our own, we created new channels to reach more people and studied online marketing trends.  We learned and grew and shared information and encouraged each other.  Most of all, we survived.

Today, the movement of independents gathers momentum every day.  We’ve gained market share and established our reputations as serious artists in our given fields.  Through efforts of arduous determination, we’ve moved the mountain enough to be noticed by major media outlets as a legitimate force.  The amazing thing about this movement is that most of us are over the age of 35, and we’ve done this while juggling jobs and families and lives.  We’ve endured sacrifices corporate executives can never fathom, just to pursue our passion, just to chase our dream, and while we may not be there yet, we’re making great strides to that destination.

The cultural movement of the independents is upon us, and we’re here for the long-haul.

The Hollow Men

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot

Friday Morning Ramblings

Caution:  Contents may offend self-indulgent precious snowflakes

Driving to work this morning, I was listening to PRX on Sirius XM.  It’s a newish public radio forum that plays only interviews, stories, Ted Talks, and other similar material.  I enjoy it for the most part because the station plays a fairly broad range of stuff, from Nobel Laureate scientists to street junkies, so I get to absorb a lot of material for future writings.  Normally, I just listen and enjoy.  Today, however, two pieces came on back to back that got my butt cheeks clenching, so I’ve scrapped the entry that came to me last night in favor of this one.

The first piece was a young scholar discussing the history of and debate over the “unreliable narrator” in literature.  Like all good scholars, he quoted the top experts in the field and laid out the major legitimate points of both sides of the debate.  As I listened to these quotations from highly regarded critics, I was reminded of why I despise literary criticism.  While all of them were intelligent, obviously highly well-read, and thorough in their reasoning, not a single one of them actually said anything of any value regarding anything substantive.  All of it was mental masturbation, reasoning for the sake of reasoning, debating for the sake of debate.  I’d also be willing to wager that not a single one of them could actually write a work of fiction worth reading either, but that’s another matter.  The whole thing struck me as highly self-indulgent, which has always been my problem with the upper echelons of academia.

There’s rarely if ever any practical application to real world dilemmas from the scholarly work of the humanities.  We live in an age when declining literacy is a real and serious issue that threatens the foundation of our democratic republic, yet these scholars are playing pin the tail on the donkey with abstract concepts that do nothing to promote literacy as a fun, engaging, accessible activity.  It seems to me an exceptional waste of finite time, resources, and brain power.  Instead of debating whether or not the “unreliable narrator” is a valid concept or even actually exists, why aren’t these highly intelligent people putting their efforts into developing curriculum or reading lists for disenfranchised children?  That’s just one example.  I’d be much more impressed by their work if they were doing anything that didn’t seem so damned self-indulgent at a time when people are really suffering.  In short, we have much bigger issues than the tuning of your fiddle, Emperor Nero.

The second piece was about “artistic” bands seeking corporate sponsorship for their bands.  Apparently, this is the newest trend in music to help independent musicians survive until they’ve built a following.  Maybe I’m just old and out of touch, but all of the music the piece sampled from these bands was pure shit.  I’m no expert, but I know good music when I hear it.  Also, each of the musicians interviewed went on and on about the “artistic” nature of their work.  If artistic has devolved into a synonym for “shitty,” I guess I missed the memo.  Much like the scholarly debate over the unreliable narrator, paying unskilled musicians to continue their craft seems like a frivolous waste of precious resources.  I don’t claim to be the gatekeeper for all things music related, and it’s not my money the corporations are giving away, but to me, this money would be much better spent on middle and high school musical education courses that actually teach people how to play an instrument.  Again, the whole thing strikes me as rather self-indulgent, both by the “artists” and the companies.

We face real issues today.  Inflation, living wages, energy, waste, education, healthcare, and fiscal sustainability are just some of them.  Our nation is crumbling around us.  The very fabric of our society seems to be fraying apart.  Today, we should be seeking solutions to these very real, very substantial, very important problems.  Today is not the time for self-indulgence and mental masturbation.  Sorry, but if you’re a shitty musician who plays avant-garde drivel, you don’t really deserve to earn a living when police officers, firefighters, and teachers, people who add real value to society, have to work second jobs to afford their mortgages.  If you’re a scholar wasting your intellect on ridiculous flights of fancy, please stop wasting taxpayer money.  Please, set down your fiddle, look up at the burning buildings, and do something to help put out the fires.