Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Letter to a Past Experiment Concerning the Failure of its Success

Dear psychotic bastard,

I was in my bedroom the other day. I had gone in there as an escape from something unpleasant happening in the living room. In the course of a civil conversation, where disagreements had been made, something arose in me. Something old and reliably horrid, boiling up from my gut like a crock pot recipe out of Macbeth (they're printed in the back). I walked into the dim room and I stood in front of my door-less closet and I started to take a deep breath. Then I reached in and picked up an empty hanger, tore it in half, threw one half against the wall, shattering it, and then stormed into the kitchen, and disintegrated the rest of it with pure rage. Something, anything, had to die at that moment. It had to die, be destroyed, rendered into the past, to give the poison in my veins, soaked into my muscles, satisfaction. Sacrifice had to make the world right with me again.

The rage drank deep from the preciousness of the poisonous exodus of that moment of my life. Something inside me squealed in delight as the plastic pieces clattered and shattered and battered the walls. And, as my heart slowed, and the light of the fire dimmed so that I could see again, it cackled and ran down the long hall of my mind before slamming the tall, tall door shut with a lingering thunder. After that there was silence. The silence of the dark hall is the awkward situation that always follows the fire. The only thing that hangs in the air is the dust of the impending mending of that tear in time.

I've always been kind of an angry person of sorts. One of those "sleeping giant" kind of angry people that is described by most he knows as "level headed" and "easy going". I'm sure you've met at least one person like me in your life. Someone who seems almost at peace most of the time only to seemingly fly off the handle when certain things come up. A person who can smile in the face of someone screaming at them at the top of their lungs, but, when they drop a fork on the floor while trying to load the dishwasher they start a 30 minute rant about how the entire world is against them.

This phenomenon is most evident if you look back through some of these letters. The early ones were explosions of anger, but, if you look at the subject matter it was always outright asinine. People that don't make more coffee after drinking the last of it. People that can't order off of menus. Poorly manufactured pants. All subjects worthy of my vitriol, apparently. The meaningful things in my life I've always been able to approach calmly and objectively. Debt, unemployment, conflict, loss. These are things that I process on a mental level, rather then an emotional one, and I had always thought that that was a fair trade. Being a drama queen about people getting my order wrong at McDonald's always seemed like a small price to pay for the ability to be cool in the face of real life.

That's not meant to excuse my anger at McDonald's. I mean, I get REALLY angry at them. I scream and rant and toss dishes and slam doors. I curse god and the devil and everything in between, and over what? Mustard? Yeah, pretty much. But, even this anger, this emotional overload that was almost an everyday occurrence, was, in a way, controlled.

Ever since I can remember there's been a point in every mundane frustration of mine where I, inevitably, become enraged, but it was controlled; directed. The rage was extreme, but, I was always aware of how bad it was getting, and where it was pointed. It was like being the pilot of a craft where the accelerator was stuck wide open, but the steering mechanisms still worked. I couldn't control the intensity of the flight, but I could control the trajectory of it. I could avoid deadly obstacles and angle myself away from impact with the things I cared about. I could put the craft on a course towards open space and just let the engines burn on afterburner until I ran out of fuel. In other words, I could feel the rage hit, and rant about how there aren't any right angles in our house, or how they only have strawberry yogurt at the cafeteria at work. I mean, seriously, is this a business or a concentration camp? Americans want banana in their strawberry yogurt, Heir Bossman. The point is that I could keep the rage, for the most part, from burning out of control in areas of my life where it could do some real damage.

Lately, though, this has not been the case. The anger has gotten worse, and even though I think I've been slightly successful in decreasing the amount of times I get angry, the intensity of the anger has increased with each outburst on an ever increasing scale. It starts out familiar. I can feel the heat, I can feel the pressure, I know the engines are stuck on, and I try to ride it out, like I always have. I accept that, at worst, I'm probably about to have to replace a glass or do some minor sheet rock repair in the near future. I'm going to have to buy my wife some chocolate and be on good behavior for a little while. It's not fun to admit that I have to have these cycles in my life, but, I'm realistic, so I know it's coming. But, half way through these routine angry fits lately, something has been kicking in, hard.

I'm in the cockpit, I'm trying to steer with the engines wide open, and suddenly there's a loud crack, and I'm pressed against the seat. First back, then to the side. My vision starts to black, then red out. I reach for the stick, but it's too far, and I can't move. I can't breath. Outside the world is in a dizzying swirl as I roll and spin out of control. I can hear the metal bending with the heat of the engine. I can see the steam in the cockpit from my own sweat. I can smell the flesh on my back cooking as the firewall behind me gives way. Mentally, I over load and fly apart.

In reality, I completely lose my fucking shit. I actually lose all control of what I'm saying. I can't control the speed or volume or content of my speech. It's full of wild and accusatory declarations. It's cynical and suspicious. It's unreasonable and hurtful. Most of all, it's scary. It's scary for everyone involved, including me. When I come down off of these rages, I almost collapse to the ground. I'm exhausted and bewildered. I used to get panic attacks sometimes which, in my case, made me feel like the stress and tension in my muscles were curling my body into a tight death ball. The aftermath of these rages is the opposite. I feel like I'm made of soft rubber afterwards. I feel empty and weak. Not to mention I've just scared the living shit out of my wife and made an already bad situation ten times worse.

With the normal rages I can censure myself. I get angry and I yell, but so does she, so WE yell. It kind of levels the playing field. And, with the regular rages, even though I'm angry, I'm still thinking about what I'm saying. There might be a "bitch" or a "tart" thrown in there for flavor, but like I said, I've gotten good at apologizing. I never used to just unleash this crazed exorcist-style torrent at her. I'm not yelling about which way the hangers are facing, I'm spewing out some real heinous shit about her as a person. Things I would never say if I could help it. And, I used to be able to help it. Something changed.

I think I've been extremely sleep deprived lately. I had a schedule for about a month that caused me to work for three days in the afternoon, over the weekend, and then switch to working nights on Monday and Tuesday. This caused me to have to switch my sleep schedule from days to nights and back again each week. This wreaked havoc on my mind. I never new what time it was or what day it was. I was staying up from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday night just to squeeze a little bit more time out of a week where I only had one day off.

I recently "negotiated" a slightly better schedule (meaning I told my manager I was officially burnt out), but sometimes I think the damage is already done. I still have a week where I have to work during the day some days and at night others. But, so far, I'm holding the mental dam in place. Feeling the cold, dead weight of the water behind it. I never imagined I would be like this, mentally. Making conscious efforts everyday to keep my sanity together, instead of just letting the dam break, like I thought I had been doing my whole life up to this point.

When I was younger, a teenager, I wanted to become insane. The idea of it was one that seemed to fit me just fine. I was different, smart, creative, so insanity seemed like the next logical step. So, I started trying to break myself. I would stay up for days (my record was 72 hours with a one hour nap each day) so that I could bring about auditory and visual hallucinations. I would go into the bathroom and turn the lights off at night, and submerse myself in the tub, my head underwater with just a straw to breath through, to try and deprive myself of stimuli. I would just listen to my breathing. I would put myself into painful scenarios, like, ice water on my hot skin or put the end of a knife in a lighter and then touch it to my arm, and try to convince myself that it didn't hurt. In other words I tried a cocktail of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, and pain to try and irrevocably crack the foundation of my conscious mind.

I thought of my mind as a wall that needed to be torn down so I could have all the precious, pure, unfiltered thought behind it. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted the world that lived and breathed behind the one that I perceived as real. I thought if I could get there, and bring it back with me, I would have something new and wonderful that not many people get to experience. A life without false, self imposed limits.

Needless to say, my attempts failed. I ended up completing a grocery list of crazy shit, but without actually being crazy, which, I guess just makes me an idiot. And, to extend that ignorance even further, I determined through my reckless experimenting that I could not, in fact, go insane. I decided that I was too smart, but also too practical, to lose my mind, so I stopped trying.

Fast forward ten years. I'm standing on my front porch, taking a long, long time trying to decide why I was out there. I remember I was going to get the mail, then I forget again, so I stand some more and try to remember. At some point I take a step, which stirs up some of the pollen that has coated everything in the entire city. The pollen makes a cloud at my feet and starts to drift up, and from the cloud, I see (I SEE) the wisps of yellow powder twist into little flying bugs. They rise in the direction the cloud was going, and spread across my vision. There must have been hundreds. Swarming up from my foot.

I know the bugs were real. And, I know that they were in the grass of my yard, and the same step that caused the cloud of pollen disturbed them and they took off. I know that, now. But, at the time, there was a moment, when, I don't know. The cause and the effect seemed perfectly logical to me. I had kicked some dust and it had turned into bugs and they had flown away. It didn't seem strange to me, just like the logical conclusion I came to later doesn't seem strange to me. There was no shock, no wonder, no question, that the pollen had turned into bugs. I had seen it so I just accepted it. I didn't even watch them that long. I just stood there, trying to remember why I had come outside.

This is after, more than once, on those days where I'd try to stay up for sometimes 30+ hours on a stretch to get personal things done, even if those things were having lunch with my wife or watching my little sister go horseback riding, saying wild things to my wife at night. Things like telling her it wasn't right that she was breaking into people's houses to administer polio vaccines with bent paper clips, or something a little more vague like asking her if she had gotten everyone on her list, because it was important that people be on her list. You know what I mean? That's what crazy is right? Believing something that was fabricated by your mind and acting accordingly. The fact that these quick episodes were temporary doesn't make it any less worrisome.

To make a bad joke, I've slept since then. But, the memories of how I've been lately are still fresh. I was acting like a crazy person, and I'm not so sure that it's totally in the past. Something is different inside me. It's like something has been torn and I can't sew it back up. I just have to try and move carefully so that I don't end up tearing it more. I had always thought of my sane state of mind as a wall made of rock and cement, and maybe that's how it used to be. Maybe, the act of trying to break through it strengthened it to be that wall. That the more I hammered the harder it became to break. And, so, maybe now, after so much time has passed without hammering, maybe now it's just a thin sheet. Maybe all it took was one bad storm too many to tear it open, and now I can't figure out how to mend it.

Ten years ago I would have welcomed the tear. I would have ripped the sheet to the ground and jumped, head first, into whatever the hell it was holding back. But now, now I need the sheet. I need to keep my head together. I need to get a hold of my shit. But, the only point of reference I have for complete mental stability, was the very time in my life that I was trying to become insane.

Is that what I have to do, again? Do I have to start testing the boundaries; rattling the cage I'm in? What if I'm wrong, and it does the opposite? What if I'm right and just staying the course takes me right off the edge of the world? Either way I have to make a decision. Or, I guess I had to, I should say. I've already made it. I've become too accustomed to my own mental health. I need to start questioning it again. Questioning everything, again.

I'll start small, but I'll still start. I'll take all that rage and fear and confusion that has been building up inside of me, and I throw it all into whatever is still keeping me rooted in reality. If I'm right, I'll reflexively fortify myself against losing my mind. If I'm wrong, well, shit, I've always wanted to be insane anyway, right?

Chiggie Von Richthofen
Walking down the street shooting people that I meet with my rubber tommy water gun

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Letter to The Child in My Head Concerning the Origin of Art

Dear tiny voice,

I was sitting at home, on a day off, watching American Splendor, and suddenly all I wanted to do was write about toast. I had warmed up some jambalaya my mother made a few days ago and brought to me, and I decided to have the only other food in the house to go with it. I went into my kitchen, directly connected to my TV room (as is dictated by American law), and I grabbed what was left of our loaf of wheat bread. Then, I pressed two slices into the toaster my wife and I have had since we were in college.

So, I'm waiting for the bread to transmogrify into toast, the whole time kind of standing next to my fridge so I can see the TV and the toaster at the same time. And, all of a sudden in my head, I just start to rave at the tiny white appliance.

How the fuck long could it possibly take to make bread hot in the 21st century? I mean, this is essentially duplicating a technology that was the key to man's supremacy on the Earth. You'd think we'd have it down by now, but no. This little Target-bought piece of shit seems to need to spend two or three hours getting itself ready for one single act, like an aging porn star stressed out about a money shot. At this point I should just invest in a solar powered toaster, meaning, I should just leave the bread on a plate in front of a window until it gets stale.

Come on you fucking asshole! Toast! You have ONE job! One! I would kill for your work day. Oh hello, sir, would you like something hot? Very good! Would you like that really hot, or kind of hot? Fuck. At this point, it would be faster to wait for God to knock my wife up and hope one of the wise men brings a slightly singed baggette. I should just smash you with a hammer and use the oven, instead. At least he oh, there it goes. Thanks toaster.

All in all it took about 45 seconds to make my toast, but, I mean, we all know that 45 seconds in front of a toaster is basically what purgatory is going to be like.

So, my tiny diatribe over with, I started to wonder about WHY I felt compelled to write it down. It was like it was imperative that I get that ridiculous outburst on paper. People NEEDED to know about my impatience over my, in all honesty, adequate toaster. I wondered what makes something like the toaster word worthy to me, but not other little things in my day. It got me thinking about how bizarre the nature of art and creation and expression is.

My little rant was about my life, and my habits, but, in a way it was kind of inspired by American Splendor. It being a movie, made from a comic, based on the mundane details of a man's life. Being entertained by that kind of justified the idea of being entertained by the toaster.

Of course, American Splendor, or the basis of it, was inspired be a burgeoning underground comic movement at the time that was making real life more of a focus of expression. That, of course was inspired by, you know, something else before it (what am I, a history, uh, guy?), which was inspired by something else, and so on, and so on.

It feel like all of art is like a giant, human imagination driven, fission reactor. Particles of expression slamming into a person, shattering them into knew high energy particles of expression of their own. Then those hurl off into the void until they collide with others the same way.

Life, inspires art, inspires life, inspires art. If that's even the order that's supposed to go. I'm not really sure what is supposed to come first, or even what came first for me. It makes me wish I had an infallible memory. Maybe, if I could remember the first time I ever created something in the hopes of expressing an internal idea, I could try to figure out what inspired it. Try to trace the origin of my own alpha expression. Find out what it was, where it came from, what inspired it, and it, and it, and it.

I want to trace my creative heritage. Find my expressive roots. Was it a Golden Book? Was it a stencil on a wall? Was it, Beethoven, Sesame Street, Richard Scary, The Who? It might not mean too much to you whether your life of the mind began with Elmo or Townshend, but for me, it's kind of important, and I think I've worked out why.

Lately, I've developed a passing fascination with the children in my family. I don't have kids, and odds are pretty high I never will, and I'm fine with that. But, my cousins, all female, have bowed to their biological imperatives to go forth and multiply. Nothing ridiculous, just average sized families all around.

These kids, as babies, didn't hold a whole lot of my attention. It was kind of like having tiny monkeys around, which wasn't unpleasant, but wasn't huge news either. But now, as the oldest is getting to the point of being a tiny person, I find myself worrying about their education. Not school and standardized, state mandated, testing, but the good stuff. I wonder what kind of life she's going to fall into, and what kind of experiences that's going to force through her personality and psyche, like scalding hot water through a coffee filter.

I wonder if she's going to discover cigarettes before she discovers boys. Or, if in this new century, she'd discover cigarettes at all. I wonder if she's going to raid her mother's liquor cabinet, or not so much if, but when. I wonder if she's going to be a nerd, or if she'll give up the path of learning to follow something more superficial. But most of all, I wonder if she's going to have a healthy obsession with music. And, if she does, if it's going to be with another Justin Timberlake, or if her generation will have a Kurt Cobain, or a Dave Grohl, or that other guy. And, if she doesn't, and I see her getting to that age, will I be able to sneak her a used copy of In Utero? Will her mom scold her for listening to it? Will she have to find a hiding place for it? Will she wait until everyone has gone to sleep, and sneak the headphones on to absorb the odd words and rhythms into her skin? Will she have a secret?

I get excited about all the potential futures she has before her, and I worry if that excitement opens me up for a horrific let down. The possibility that the wonders of tobacco, alcohol, and her choice of progressive, garage, or punk rock won't be something that she is being deprived of, but, something she actively avoids. That, in the future, she'd be presented with the riches of personal and mental growth, and that she'd turn her head away and close her eyes. Resistant to my pleas and declarations. Am I destined to build up a version of her in my head, only to have her let me down in every way without her even knowing it? Will I try to fight it? I think I would.

First, I think I would be practical. The Rolling Stones, maybe. No? Fine.

Then, I would be creative. Beck, perhaps, start with Loser and go from there. No? Fine.

Then, I would be stern. Pearl Jam, there has to be something here that...No? Fine.

Perhaps, then, I would be compassionate. Bob Dylan. Raspy poetry to timeless melodies. NO? NO?

I would be angry. White Zombie! I'll burn it into your skin, you little shit! NO?! OK. Fine.

I would breath. I would be reasonable. Queens of the Stone Age. They're new. Well, new-ER anyway. I would sigh.

I would be desperate. Led Zeppelin. My shoulders would slump. And then she would let me die, in front of her, unimpressed with my offerings.

In the end it wouldn't be about whether she grew up musical, or artistic, or even creative. There are people who can change their entire persona like the wind changes direction, just from the influence of a good lyric or a hue of paint or a movement of a well trained figure. There are those of us that only feel truly awake and alive when we are being acted upon by the creations of others, and when we are creating ourselves. And, there are others who don't. Not worse people, just OTHER people. "Squares", you could say, but not necessarily bad people. I just don't want her to be one of them.

I guess, in a way, I'm lonely, but, it's a new loneliness so it stings more. The loneliness one gets after something new excites them, and then the reality of it's flaws sinks in. It had never occurred to me before that there'd be another person in my family that could be like me. In a family you always think of yourself as the youngest because that's the way you perceive it. You're born, and you meet your family, and you're the baby. You grow up with everyone already there, or, only a little younger than you, so they are on the same level as you.

Then my cousin, someone from my generation, has a kid. Not an earth shattering event. Women make little humans, that's just biology. But, then that kid learned to speak, and read, and write, and process, and learn. Then the thought started to creep in. The thought that she's the age I was when it all started really snowballing out of control for me. When all I wanted to do was sketch and write and listen and watch. When I wanted my days filled with absorption and recitation. The first time I memorized the words to a Pink Floyd song.

She's right there on the cusp. She's smart enough; smarter than she should be. The potential is there, but it feels like something is missing. It feels like there needs to be some kind of push. It could be small. A song or a book or a picture. Something that connects two wires in her brain and causes a spark that starts a chain reaction of creativity that sustains itself the entirety of her life from that point forward. A life long explosion that rages over the dissenting opinions and judgmental laughter. A fire that consumes everything in front of her and turns it into piles of ash inside her mind that she can rake into any shape she desires.

But, I'm not talking about her anymore at this point. I can't be. She goes to school, goes to church, reads books on occasion, and likes Shrek. To tell the truth I barely interact with her. She's become a voice in my head. An idea that I can imprint my values on as maybe a way of filtering out what's important to me. I want her to be with me, with all the others like me, huddling in the dark and making our own fires outside of the barbarian city walls. But, more than that, maybe I just want some justification for being the way I am. For being different.

Not so much different from society, mind you. There are tons of people like me. Artistically inclined, music loving, slackers? The only thing we're lacking as far as public recognition is government subsidies. But, as far as my family goes, there's me, in some ways my mother, and that's it.

So, it's not that I think my way is better, but it's a way, and one that I feel has been fulfilling, even when it's been a curse. And, it'd be nice to have someone there with me for the long walk. Someone that would look to me for guidance. Someone I'd have answers for in the trivialities of becoming a fan of the world. So, I keep searching, inside, for the spark that ignited me, in hopes that it will work again on her.

I know, deep down, that this idea is both arrogant and selfish. I've never been that influential a force on anyone I can think of. So, to think that some small push by the Great Me would change the direction of her life is probably ultimately foolish. Not to mention reckless. Even if it does work, and something does start rolling in her mind, there's no way to really tell where it's going to go. Our potential might be very similar, but our lives surely are not. At least not her compared to me at that age. I had an empty house and space alien sister to deal with. I had to be creative so that I could keep sane. She, on the other hand, seems to have her sanity well in hand without having to tend it like a dying garden.

So, what would the spark do? Inspire? Harm? Nothing whatsoever? Who knows? So, it seems almost irresponsible to do anything at all. But, I still feel like I should. Maybe something small, just as a test, and if she's not interested, back off. Or, if her mother protests, don't push it. Let it be more natural. Something that won't shock the system in unintended ways. For fuck's sake, she might want to aspire to be a writer. I'd never forgive myself. I want her to ask me how Keith Moon died, not condemn her to my own personal piece of hell. And, following that thought, I have to admit that my love for music and film and everything around and in between hasn't exactly catapulted me into success. I have a little bit I can be proud of in the realm of expression, but as far as making it as a person, I don't think it had a huge part to do with it, other than making the bad times more tolerable so I could keep going. Now that I think about it, maybe that is a big part. Either way, I can't get passed the thought that she, and everyone really, needs those pieces in their make up as a person.

It all boils down to a very important question about what I can get away with exposing her to. What kind of magic spell to use. And, if you got that reference and cringed a little, I apologize. I'm thinking maybe The Cranberries as her gateway drug. Zombie, Ode to my Family, Dreams. That seems like a good way to introduce a good foundation of music, but have a deeper meaning that can soak in over time. Also, it has that strong, but very feminine, lead singer, which seems good for a young girl to identify with. Yeah, that seems just right. For now.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware