February 14, 2008

That Crazy VD

It’s valentine’s day and I’m single.

This is not an admission seeking pity. It is not a rebel yell to all those at dinner, or dancing, or peacefully cuddling on the couch. It is not a mopy moment meant to drain the brains of those who may think “why?” It is mere fact. A fact that carries certain social connotations and internal insecurities which I’m sure others have thought about over the course of the past week or final hours leading up to today.

In our culture, this is a moment of unstoppable force meets immovable object.

It is an inevitability. Like the first day of school. Like New Year’s Eve. Like whatever religious holiday you celebrate. Or national holiday you appreciate. Or your birthday whether it’s the excitement of turning 21 or the dread of 40. It is a construct and reminder that time is always moving.

Thus, our unstoppable force.

This day is somewhat different. Regardless of your thoughts: “it’s just another day on the calendar,” “it’s just a Hallmark holiday,” “it’s the bestest day of the year!” the day ties into one of the largest ongoing thoughts that most of us have about life: will I be alone?

It is an odd question asked at odd moments of our life. For instance, have you ever asked yourself that when you’re in a relationship? Knee deep in the honeymoon phase where even the grass seems more green and your favorite bar seems less smoky, do you pause and question that atmospheric goodness? Unlikely. Sometimes, sadly, it acts as a stubborn lynch pin when our relationships aren’t going well and we try to hang on because we think “being alone is far worst than what I have now.”

The question is most certain to arise when things are not well. Even after decades of marriage that question pops up, unexpectedly, an emotional abscess on our heart when our loved one comes down with a potentially lethal ailment. “What happens when they’re gone? What will I do?” No matter what the question is always there; only its placement between the forefront and subconscious of our minds vacillates.

And so we have our immovable object.

I’m not saying that the clash of these two titans automatically results in an undertaking of epic proportion, mental, romantic, or otherwise. It may be a small thought, a fleeting consideration, or quick shrug of the shoulder. If you aren’t single, today either sets off bells and alarms or is pleasantly greeted like a long lost friend. In couplehood, it can be a day to appreciate where you’re at and how you got there:

“I met her at the rodeo. I was flung from a bull into a pile of cowshit and she was the clown trying to distract the bull from gouging me.” Too cute.

Or it can be a day of reckoning for those unsettled issues the two of you may feel resulting in an unconscious double-blind taste-test of potential disaster.

“Will he remember that I don’t like roses?”

“Will she expect me to do something?”

“Oh my god, he (or she) got me a stuffed animal (or tie) for the 3rd (or 4th, or 5th) year in a row.”

When you’re single, you comparably do have a vast more amount of choices. Maybe this is the day you head out with your single friends and celebrate that freedom. Maybe this is the day you flip off the calendar and rally against the status quo and watch Mallrats while playing Call of Duty 3. Maybe this is the day when you take that small leap and give someone a piece of your heart, hoping they return the favor, or at least hoping they don’t jab a steak fork through it.

What do you make of today?

You could mope. You could celebrate. You could be as happily immune to the thought of alone as that Walt Disneyish couple I saw walk into a restaurant minutes before I wrote this. Single or not consider the following, easy, three step advice:

1. Cut a hole in the box.

2. Put your junk in the...

...whoops, sorry, that my sweetest day advice. Here’s the Valentine’s Day advice:

Whether you’re floating on cloud nine, canoodling with your lover, dancing the night away with friends, or quietly sitting at home, I want you to pause. Close your eyes. Think about being alone. Not to make you appreciate what you have (or long for what you don’t) but think about your solitary existence throughout your own life. I want you to think about simple facts:

By yourself, you once overcame a great fear.

By yourself, you once achieved a great dream.

By yourself, you once looked at yourself in the mirror and said “damn I’m hot.”

By yourself, you once tripped, and fell, and got up, and laughed for being human.

By yourself, you once heard your favorite band for the first time and smiled.

By yourself, you once created something in your way, in your style, and was proud of it.

By yourself, you once made someone else smile, in a good way, and they’ll never forget it.

Now open your eyes. See the world around you. Realize that today is Valentine’s Day and, as my friend Andrew West so eloquently put it, “was a day founded on orgies.” Orgies of course is the Greek word for “fantastic party and a day to celebrate the richness the of life because no matter who you’re with, or what bad befalls you, you always have yourself.”

I hope you enjoy today and appreciate all the good that you have done for yourself and others.


February 06, 2008

Waking Up

In the mid 1990's, when I was young and naive...or just young really...I was writing probably as much as I do now. I was surrounded by inspiration. I am thankful for this time because much of what I am as a writer today in my poetry and prose comes from elements which these artists opened for others.

Pulp Fiction and Clerks were just released in the movie theaters. The dialogue of both films was different, sinister, yet down to earth. A little discomforting at times yet mixed with humor (think Vincent and Jules' dialogue on foot massages). I'll admit, my own movies ideas at the time were simple and 'neat.' Like a nice kitchen with white curtains and a window open to let the sun come in. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy tries some clever scheme to get to know girl, etc. I kinda needed a kick in the hoo-hahs and those movies delivered.

Alanis Morisette comes to mind for music. While I thoroughly, and with slightly colored cheeks, admit that I was a big Hootie fan (again, I was writing stories about a romance so hopeless any music which could support the "I'm not worthy" thoughts was awesome). Then Alanis comes along with an album dedicated to hating on Dave Coulier. Like the movies, I was kind of disconcerted to hear lines like "did she go down on you in a theater." Her "hey Dave...go f*** yourself!" themes jarred some stuff loose for me.

I am blessed to say that growing up in Milwaukee around that time yielded two more experiences which profoundly changed the way I thought about my writing. My friends and I would go see The Dead Alewives which was an experimental comedy troupe containing members of ComedySportz. I was so used to the non-swearing and quite constricting rules of ComedySportz that watching these seven men (Mondy, Rob, Dan, Sean, Kurt, Bo, and Peter) butcher them like a sort of serial comedian really woke me from a small world. It was hard not to be offended but it was more hard not to laugh.

I've mentioned him before, but one of the members of the Dead Alewives, Rob Schrab, also wrote and illustrated a comic book called Scud: The Disposeable Assassin. Even though it had been a while since I'd read comics, reading a black and white comic, with art which was as gritty as Frank Miller but as simple as Phil Hester really coldcocked any preconceived notions I had about superheroes. It was violent, but thought provoking. Scud was a free spirit as a character, but he was also a killer with no remorse.

All of these influences definitely played into my first short story, which soon became part of another larger story of my life. I wrote The Date when I was head over heels for Mia Scampini. The story, like most of my stories, started out with this very analytical, kinda Woody Allenish character worried about whether or not the girl of his dreams likes him. In a serendipitous turn of events, she calls him, and soon they're headed to the most romantic place on earth: a vehicle emissions inspection center.

As the date (more to him, less to her) goes along, the story gets kinda dull. And since most of the story was autobiographical, I reached a horrible moment where I had no idea where to go next. The characters in the story (written as 'him' and 'her' to protect the innocent) were at the center, and the date seemed over. That was until they get into a high speed gun battle where the 'her' just happens to be an expert markswoman. It was the first time in a story I had violence, extremely graphic descriptions of head's exploding, and lots and lots of swearing.

Of course I took the biggest risk by giving it to Mia, who read it and loved it, mostly proven by the fact that she gave it to a slew of her friends to read. Nothing like being insecure and in high school reading a fictional short story about some slightly geeky kid who likes a character so close to your friend, who in the story just happens to blow people away with a .38 (yielding one of my favorite moments from her when she corrected me that her eyes were green not brown).

Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Alanis, Rob, and the Alewives all broke ground for me. It was kind of like giving a kid access to Big Foot at an antique car show/kitty cat convention. Dead kittens and smashed Hudsons everywhere.

Of course we all grow up and while we find our voice and one that makes us most comfortable we also adapt to our changing times. We also learn new lessons and sometimes use our old ways to illustrate life's changes. Smith did Clerks 2 which was not in grainy black and white but definitely had those "did he really just say that" lines of dialogue still quoted today. Tarantino did Grind House, and although it had the benefit of new movie tech (and more money) it was still classic Tarantino chaos. Alanis is dating Ryan Reynolds, but she's found new ways to shock audiences (if you've never heard/seen her version of 'My Humps' check out YouTube stat!). And although the original Alewives are no more, many of them are successful doing other things.

Like Rob, who just released Scud #21 after a 10 year hiatus. It is the first of four and did not disappoint, not just because it was refreshing to see Scud return as the hero but because it still manages to kick you in the teeth with new themes (for more please see the review in Comic Smack) . And so, I leave you Rob's opening thoughts to #21, in honor of the great artists who woke me up with their creativity, and the fact that they took a risk themselves with their own original voices:

"Learn from the pain of an old nerd. And take this bit of wisdom: If there's something that you are procrastinating on, writing a book, making a movie or asking a girl out. Do it. Today. Be scared, be stupid but there is one thing you are not allowed to do: Give up. Empty your head. Empty it of all the ideas, stories, jokes, philosophies and inventions. Put it down on paper and share it. We are on this planet for such a short time; don't hog the magic by dying with it all in your head. Make your life extraordinary."