Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On Exhaustion and Critics

Day three of my exile is ending, and I'm faced with the prospect of returning to the office with my lungs more-or-less back in their proper places in my chest. So I'm lying in bed listening to jazz, trying to keep enough cool air on my skin that I might be able to get some sleep tonight despite the sticky Toronto heat and the cough that hasn't quite gone away, and I'm also trying to write something.

I guess "trying" isn't really the appropriate term anymore; since recently my job has been to write every day. And I think I'd like to take a minute and discuss something that happened today pursuant to that, because I found it a little shocking.

So I've been guest writing over at State of Affairs. It's been fun. I get to write about things that piss me off, and I get to do so in a semi-humorous way, with pictures, and I get paid to do it. Right on. I try to make my stuff at least somewhat topical, because I think it's more interesting for people to read about stuff that's actually happening right now, so there's some kind of dialogue that can happen about the event or the issue. Well, up until now people have enjoyed my rants about fast-food, the war on drugs and the recent bullshit election in Iran, among other things. But today I managed to piss off several hardcore liberal friends of mine by writing about the recent to-do in France over banning burqas. If you're really interested, go read the post.

Granted, I was a little overreaching and I deliberately wrote in such a way as to cause some kind of reaction, because otherwise I'm just another bland, pedestrian blogger. But I absolutely did not expect to be called a racist, particularly not by people I know. The point I was trying to get across in my article was not that Muslims are bad (they aren't) or that freedom of religion is bad (it's not), but merely that I take serious issue with women being forced by some people's interpretations of their religious texts to take on a second-class citizen role. I like women, and I don't like it when they get abused -- that was the thrust of my argument. I applauded the French government's decision to frown upon burqas because I think that style of dress represents a step in the wrong direction for women's rights.

And for my troubles, I got told I'm an ignorant bigot. Huh?

Don't get me wrong -- I don't have any issue with criticism. I'm a writer and a musician full-time -- it's my job to take criticism. But it's one thing to attack my writing or even my opinion -- it's fully another to attack my system of values as a human being. Let me go on record saying that as far as my own bigotry goes, I see two kinds of people in this world: cool people and assholes. If you're a cool person, regardless of what colour you are, who you like to pray to and who you like to fuck, we'll get along just fine. If you're an asshole, I don't attribute that characteristic to any of the above traits -- I just think you're an asshole, and we won't get along.

I refuse to print a retraction, because I stand by my decision -- if supporting women's rights makes me a bigot, then I'll fly that flag. But I did want to address the issue, even here on this little blog that probably gets less hits than SOA, just in case any other friend reads -- or misreads -- my other post. I promise I don't hate you based on anything other than whether or not you're an asshole. You can douse the torches and put the pitchforks back in the greenhouse now.

And with that I'm tapped. I have to write another post tomorrow, and I guess I'll have to pick my topic a little more carefully if I want to avoid pissing more people off. Oh wait, I don't care about pissing people off, so I'll write what I want. But get your fucking facts straight, and don't ever call me a racist again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogging Fun

So for the next few weeks I'll be guest-writing on my buddy Jim's blog over at State of Affairs. It's topical, current and quite often funny (at least it is when I'm writing it). Come check it out -- it's like a Localized Irritant post every single day.

Oh, and if you haven't yet, get your tickets for Currents (21 Jun 2009 doors at 8:30). It's going to be great.

I know, I promised dick jokes.

Here's one: I'm a dick and the joke's on you.

Go read Jim's blog. I'm funny there.

(What, were you expecting more poetry? Fine:


in all the lines I have read today

the purest line that I have seen

was the line of a spent cigarette

arcing into snow.

Happy now?)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Oh lord, he's not going to try his hand at poetry, is he?

Yes, he is. I'm going to try my hand -- as usual -- at something the skill for which I don't necessarily possess. There will be something funny later. Dick jokes or something, I promise.


You're going to have to give me a second (be)cause
William Burroughs and WWII are
on a Thursday night with a stomach full of beer and bad pizza.

While I dip my feet in Mister Clean Antibacterial Multi Surface I notice
it's always raining on Yonge Street;
the cleanest parts are the streetlights and even they're a muddy orange
that leave the pavement looking kind of oily.

Dust blows off my standing fan and I guess that's what I'm smelling:
sort of a burning scent like you left your pan-bread to roast just a little too long.

If you don't mind I'd like to collect my thoughts
because right now it's all heroin and opera.

And at some point it will be necessary to
go to market, I know,

but I'm much happier smelling pan-bread and rain
while I deal with complex phrasing and avoid
what you tell me is fundamentally necessary.


and, a little something from the archives, just to prove I used to do this a lot:

untitled (may '08)

there’s something restless in
the fine dust of butterfly creases and that
day-to-day dust we all breathe:
smoke and ashes without a filter, no
distance, no difference
and absolutely no holding back
not anymore.

filament-fine like optic wire
threads that read like spiderwebs
strung silent at sunset,
catching dust-mites and lightning bugs
that shimmer and burn and expire
while the sun slinks and winks and slips away.

monarchs’ powder; like day-to-day
breathing falls light like snow;
papery postulations written in dust on
blades of grass and stems of
dandelion heads.

restless; trembling in
swan-song reverie
shakes the shade and the long shadows:
dust-mites eat the words, kicking up
devils that spin and swirl and sway.

they settle, slowly, words digested, patterns
splayed like spilled ash, now here, now that way.

at dusk the butterfly will fold its wings and pass
into dust.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Burnout and Currents

Okay, I was going to wait to post this information, but since I've spent the last two days in a non-working stupor as a result of too much self-inflicted stress, some bad gumbo and a total inability to sleep without dreaming about fascinating short stories I'll never write, I figured what the hell, might as well go ahead.

Sometimes people get what they deserve in life. Sometimes they don't even realize they deserve it (I reference the absolutely epic birthday celebration planned by my sister for my 25th birthday this past weekend), but they do. I've been friends with Randy (or Randolph, if you prefer -- he does) for just about twelve years this year. We met in high school, bonded over Smashing Pumpkins, bad poetry, Quentin Tarantino and an unhealthy love of Dr. Pepper, and we've been friends -- for the most part -- ever since. He's the guy I credit with getting me my current job. He's a great guy who's always willing to go out on a limb for a friend and help out where he can. Trouble is he's had no luck with women most of his life. Some of the girls he's dated have been great: just a bad fit. Others have had few -- if any -- redeeming qualities.

But he finally found the right girl. Her name's Michelle and she's one of the most talented women I've ever met. Plays a baker's dozen of different instruments, classically trained opera singer, gourmet chef, fluent in several languages, and she can fly. No, really, she's a flight attendant.

And now she's trying her hand at production.

The show is called Currents, and it's going to feature an amazing variety of talented musicians each hailing from very different musical backgrounds, all performing on the same stage, the same night. I'm lucky enough to open this show.

In Michelle's words, "Currents is Folk, Tango, Opera, Theatre. A love story. Currents of water flow together to create powerful forces like the music flows to move you in this extraordinary event."

That sounds just about right. I've met most of the other performers: Stephen Targett, pianist extraordinaire, Andrea Rebello (who I'm meeting tomorrow) and the composer Erika Crino. Oh, and Michelle as well, who's fantastic in any language. These people are pretty damned amazing, and at a level of musical aptitude I'm hoping will rub off when we share a stage.

The show (for those of you who didn't click the link) is happening Sunday, June 21st at the Gladstone Hotel (Ballroom). Doors open at 8, I go on at 9 to open what will be a 3 hour show. Cover is fifteen bucks, which I'm telling you right now will be well worth it. You can get tickets online here, or you can talk to me and I'll organize something for you.

These people deserve to be seen by the music-going public. Apparently I deserve to play with them. And you definitely deserve to see this show.

Hope you'll come. I'll post something in a few days that has nothing to do with me selling myself, promise.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dream Journal? Really?

Yep, really. I don't usually go in for this hippie-dippie kind of stuff, but I've decided I should start cataloging my dreams for your reading pleasure, because honestly, you can't make this shit up.

Last night I dreamed I was hanging out in my ancestral home on Gilley Road in North York (I grew up in that apartment and then moved back for the first two years of my university career. The house has since been sold) with my best friend/current roommate. I was on the phone to my sound engineer, discussing drinking plans, when who should appear but Greg's horrible former girlfriend (the one who was the catalyst for me moving back to Bradford and Greg spiraling into debt and depression for the better part of a year).

I had no idea why she was in my home, but instead of confronting her on this issue I decided instead to discuss her various shortcomings with DeGroot on the phone directly in front of her. She casually mentioned that I might hang up the phone or at least go into another room rather than trash-talking her more-or-less to her face and making myself "look like an asshole". I refused and instead started relaying her side of the conversation to DeGroot, at which point she chased me into the adjoining bedroom (that used to be my parents' bedroom) and tackled me to the floor. She began repeatedly punching me in the face and she was wearing a very sharp ring, so I told DeGroot I'd have to call him back.

I tried reasoning with her, but she wouldn't stop hitting me long enough to get a word in edgewise, so I started screaming for Greg to do something, because I was getting to the point where I was going to hit her back (she really was beating the everloving shit out of me) but I was concerned that she'd call the police and have me charged with assault if I did. Greg stood behind her and waved his arms ineffectually, not knowing what to do either.

Then I became aware of the fact that I was thirsty -- not just thirsty, but lost-in-the-desert parched. I woke up and drank a pitcher full of water.

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I don't think I'm wrong...

Ever have one of those days where you get one of those great moments of self-reflection, step back and realize your life is awesome? I know, not too many people get those anymore. We're all mired in our own self-doubt, too busy grasping at higher awareness to recognize that our time is now, that this is the moment we're alive and we'd better stop and damn well pay attention before it gets away.

In the last two weeks I've written a treatment for a music video, a full script for what will become a web-televised short, and lyrics for several songs to be used in the same campaign. I had an interesting conversation the other night in which I was told I'd never make it as an artist as long as I kept being a -- I believe the quote was "corporate shill" -- and that I'd never find true happiness as a writer or a musician if this is the work I'm producing. But the fact of the matter is, this is what I do. Some people might call it bullshit, or near-art, or selling out. I don't take those people to heart, because I already know it's bullshit, near-art AND selling out. And I don't care. Because I love what I do.

Let me put it another way -- if what you love to do is make things out of wood, as several of my family and friends do, then what does it matter if you're making a table, or a cabinet, or a sculpture? The movement is the same. It's a movement of faith that drives us to create -- faith in what? Better men than me have tried to answer that question and continue to come up short, but it's faith nonetheless. Making a table with the same artistry and craftsmanship as you'd make a sculpture makes the table a sculpture, in my opinion. In fact, there's a school of thought that says the table is actually worth more because it's useful, and not just to be stared at. It's the same thing with words. I could do what's often been suggested to me -- go back to school, get my Master's degree, continue to study other people's words in the hope of one day passing them on to somebody else. I could go the route I've considered myself -- go back to school, get my Master's degree in creative writing, and be a writer as my full-time job.

But that's what I'm already doing.

I know too many people who got specialized degrees in fields of interest and, either by their own volition (or lack thereof) or by fate, wound up doing bullshit jobs for no money, never using their skills in their day-to-day. The best of them continue to pursue those passions on the side, but they're endlessly frustrated by the fact that they're doing meaningless work in the interim. Others are what the politically-correct among us term "lifelong students" which to me translates as "too shit-scared to give it a real shot so we'll stay in academia where it's safe and graded tangibly". I get tired of hearing artists piss and moan about never making a living at their art when they don't try. The ones that do make that effort (whether or not it's successful) get my full respect. But the ones that truly give me indigestion are the ones who suppose that I won't -- or can't -- "make it" (whatever that means) as an artist if I'm willing to do a job like what I do.

As far as I'm concerned, words and music are a priori tools AND products of artistry. I can look at the writing I do one of two ways, based on that premise. The lyrics I've been writing are supposed to be set to a "rap-rock" musical vibe -- not something I dig very often, and certainly a genre that's faded from popularity. I can either choose to look at what I've written for this project as shitty lyrics (which from my aesthetic standpoint they are), or I can look at them contextually and as a priori tools and products of artistry, and realize that, for what they are, they're perfectly suited. That I can alter my style to suit a genre I've no interest in, basically at will, doesn't make me a corporate shill or a sellout in my estimation -- I'd say it makes me a good craftsman. If you want me to build a table for you, I have to build the table you want, to your exact specifications. It doesn't matter if your specifications denote a shitty table -- if I can make that exact shitty table, I've done my job and I've done it well, and I can walk away with the understanding in my own mind that I've used my craft to make something that's pleased someone else.

Tell me, artists of the world, am I completely off my rocker here? Because I think I'm rather on to something. It's too late at night and I'm too burned out to expound on aesthetic philosophy, but the saying goes, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", not "beauty is in the eye of the jaded, full-of-shit-and-ego creator of the object".

I'm an actor because I act, but I'm a happy actor because I act and get paid. I'm a musician because I make music, but I'm a happy musician because I get money to make music. And I'm a writer because I write, because I have to write, because it's what I do, but I'm a happy writer because I get to eat the fruits of my writing. I do these things for a living, and I do these things for a life, and I think that makes me a blessed individual.

Self-reflection kicks ass.

Older Chests - Damien Rice cover

Here's a sampling of my YouTube channel, since I haven't had the time to write anything of substance lately. Check it out; I've got a bunch of stuff up with more coming. Real blog coming soon.