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

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