Monday, July 17, 2017

28/52 - Not D23-Worthy But an Update Nonetheless

Dear Internauts,

Just a short update for ya beautiful people in between practicing for the upcoming show and working on the art for finishing up chapter one of the comic.

Originally, chapter one was gonna be eight pages long, but it's turning into nine or ten pages. The ending of the chapter wasn't gripping enough. I'll also be completely rewriting the dialogue/narration and thus re-lettering the pages. The font was also too large in the first draft, meaning the bubbles and boxes took up too much space. It's all learning this whole new art form that takes up what I think will be at least twice as much time as each other successive chapter will take once I've got the hang of it. (If you would be interested in reading and critiquing an early draft, let me know as it would be a big help.)  What I can tell you so far is that Chapter One follows Polly Ono, a red-suited cyborg mechanic smuggling a bag of precious materials along an old sea wall high above the future city of Domus. Things quickly go sideways and running this favor for a friend soon turns into a life-threatening adventure. YAY!

Currently waiting on a response from the concert booker about the exact set time I'll be allowed, but I've got plenty of songs to fill up whatever space I'm given. Might even bring in a brand new one.

If you live anywhere near Somerville, MA, I'll be playing at the MA Solo Artist Awards on Thursday, July 20th at Thunder Road. For more info and to get tickets, please check this out. I'd really love to see you there. If you do come, please feel free to say hi.

Honestly, been feeling really exhausted lately. Not sleeping much, so I spend time working on art and writing while trying to figure out next steps for life. Really, I'm just taking it one moment at a time. Both life and this blog should pick up in some unknown ways after the show.

By the way, for a simple meal/treat, toast some bread, put some cheese and black beans on it with relish/pickles and sriracha. It's great, easy, fast, and pairs well with potato chips.

Thanks for reading,
Odist

Monday, July 10, 2017

27/52 - Superhero Punching Match

"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." - James Baldwin


Dear Internauts, 

Been sitting on this blog all night and day trying to organize my thoughts into something resembling coherence. I mean, let's not let our standards get too crazy out of control, but it's been fairly obvious of late that I've lost whatever crispy remnant of my sanity held cognitive structures one to the next.

I mean, how many times can I turn over and fall back to sleep? Worse, how many times must I reach a point of waking only to groan (sometimes out loud), "damn you reality." Sure, my dreaming hasn't been incredibly productive or anything, but at least I have a right to feel victimized in my nightmares—even if only in a solipsistic sense. 

Now I could type something topical and timely here about, say, defense spending, but I think instead I should type something topical and timely here about, say, super hero stories. 

Boy, do I love me some good super hero stories! 

As we know, though, thinking critically about a work is a true sign of love for that work. 

Thus, when I mention how much I love(d) Spider-Man: Homecoming, it also comes to mind, how important it is we get a scene of Spidey committing violence in the name of justice only to realize he acted without having all the right 
information. 

Of course I'm referring to the one scene when...but also that other scene when...and oh yeah, there's the other scene when... OH MY WORD WE HAVE A THEME!!! It's certainly not all the movie is about, but boy does WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY play well with all its lovely little tropey children. 

One of the things I love about Spider-Man as a character is that he's one of the few Marvel characters who can accomplish some of the best humanizing characterization the House of Ideas has to offer while still being unapologetically a super hero vigilante detective crime fighter. With both Marvel and DC comics filling so many of their story-lines with in-fighting, universe-shattering events, and/or crossovers you need spreadsheets and a platinum account to follow, it can feel like the big 2 comics publishers spend almost as much time avoiding the old baseline as they do retelling the origin stories of their beloveds. 

(Granted, does anyone do a detective story in costume quite like a good Batman?  When you break it down, the worst of those tales sprinkle clues in the drips from generic goons' bloody noses and gadget-based Deus Ex McGuffins.  The best writers and artists must recognize that Bruce is a 1%-er taking out his childhood trauma on the poor, disenfranchised, and mentally ill. Some choose to revel in this, making Bats out as just as if not more unstable than his rogues gallery, while others seem almost tone deaf to the hypocrisy and inherently cyclical nature of his one man war on crime.)

Spider-Man takes maybe several less cues per issue from scientific detective stories than Batman, but as with almost every comic book hero, the genre-bending is latched inextricably with the tastes of the particular writer. Why I and many others love our flustered webhead so much stems from the human drama and spirit of perseverance which underlies his best tales. Now unlike the CW's DC shows—of which I am mostly a huge fan—Spider-Man has had a long, long history of working out the balance between heart-breaking and face-punching. You need to care about the people in the fight if you're to really care about the fight. Contrariwise, if the fight only seems to exist to take a breather between characters having the same melodramatic conversation for the fortieth time that episode/issue, then it's just another weird teen drama shot in toronto with a bunch of hot shirtless guys,  uncomfortable pauses between cuts, and every minor twists treated like someone just blew up the moon. Thankfully, both the CW shows and Spider-Man's writers tend to get better at all this with time, and Spidey's had far more than most for developing a truly teenage superhero tale. His stories deal with angst, homework, dating, money trouble, family struggles, public image, and more while still feeling adequately super

Now, this isn't always the case, but when done well, Peter Parker's growth and Spider-Man's growth are linked by one of the true hallmarks of a lasting serial hero: he can never catch a break but will never give up. Even when everything is against him, even when he can't seem to go on or doesn't know how or thinks he maybe shouldn't...he does. You could also say this goes back to the basics of characterization in general: will to action. The good, simple plots work because they are driven by character choice. To act and react. 

We don't need a hero who never questions themselves or their world, but there is something truly refreshing in being able to see a young Peter or Miles acting heroically while still in the process of growing to figure out what heroism even is. Captain America based a lot of his ideas of heroism around a fight against big evil. Whether it be his mother's losing fight against illness or the allies verse the axis, his origin is essentially one of what happens when you give a truly stubborn idealist the power to punch symbolic BAD in the face. Of course this has meant different things for each generation of reader/viewer, but for me personally, I'd say this has carried over better than Superman's take on that kinda reasoning because of more complex characterization, a grounded sense of relevancy, and an ability to evolve that relevancy throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century. 

Now, Supes is more like a mythical figure himself, and in many of his stories, there's a sense that most of the page has to be taken up by either reiterating how amazing he is or putting on some elaborate song and dance about how human he really is. For a recent example of why being NOT human can be a great thing for characters trying to fit into a human world, try Tom King's The Vision series. 

At this point, it may seem like I'm too biased against DC. I'll not fight that point except to say that I think the best stories from Marvel, DC, or whomever else always have a strong recognition of who their characters are and what they're about, bringing greatness out of that knowledge instead of spending time and effort on trying to make us forget. Made-ya-look trickery is a great joke for elementary school, but not for building a meaningful relationship between writer/artist and reader. 

So what does all this have to do with Spider-Man and violence? While, as usual, it's not what the story is about that sticks with us so much as what the story is about, y'know?  

I LOVE Batman, but every once in a while, it hits me that the immensity of money and resources and training and intellect which power his punches may not come from a place of real responsibility. Maybe he fights crime because crime needs to be fought, but often it’s because what “crime” means in Gotham is huge gangs of well-funded, absurdly armed, illogically dedicated mercenary thieves with garish masks and/or team colors under the direction of a dangerous, brilliantly organized parody of our fears about mental illness. Of course, this comes out in the most obvious ways in video games and the action scenes of Zach Snyder movies. What I love most about Batman stories is when he’s a brilliant detective. I also love when the philosophical and psychological weirdness of the characters plays out with fascinating interactions. Still, no matter who is writing the character, Batman fights a self-perpetuating struggle against his inner demons by committing extreme violence against the poor, disenfranchised, and mentally ill. And y’know what? I’m fine with that. When it’s written well, we can get lost in a world where criminals are actually endlessly resourced, psychotic enough to distance themselves from us and make them intriguing but controlled enough to plan and act with extreme balance over long periods, and anyone who commits an act of crime deserves be punished physically for it. He is on a vendetta in a world designed to feed that vendetta. On a more meta level, this is for the sake of continuing stories. In-universe, I don’t think Bruce believes he has a responsibility toward justice as much as he believes in his personal war. Now, this is lovingly explored with his relationship toward Alfred, the Robins, and his JL colleagues. One of my favorite areas it’s explored, though, is with the charitable work of Wayne Enterprises. What does it say that such work is usually done in memory of his parents, who perhaps understood the weight of being responsible with their privilege in a way they never got to teach their son? Bruce is foremost driven by guilt and trauma. Maybe that’s hopeful that he’s able to achieve a lot of good out of that, but in many ways what makes the Justice League so great for Batman is that he’s around folks motivated by things other than grief-rage.

Spider-Man stories go in many of the same directions. His lack of money and resources are usually made up for with smarts, determination, and one of the coolest power sets in superhero comics history. He would be vastly over-powered, save for that his insecurities, lack of experience/training (depending on the story), and sense of responsibility tend to hold him back. Further is the less often explored ways in which his powers hinder his ability to function normally, though when it is explored it adds another lump of coal to this Charlie Brown’s stocking in the best sense. While Peter is driven by guilt over his part in the death of Uncle Ben, his largest motivation has always been a charge toward personal responsibility.

While many have had to earn Batman’s respect, in most stories he sets the bar—to be Robin or another member of the Bat-family or of the League. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does rarely set up a chance for Batman to question his own right to fight this war. I. AM. BATMAN. And that’s all the right he needs. It’s an overly simplistic critique, but I’m not saying it’s wrong either. I’m saying it works for the character because it’s consistent, and when it’s played with in interesting ways that’s great. It’s an aspect of this hero, but I wouldn’t call it heroic. It’s not that he never doubts or feels unsure, but part of his character is that at the end of the adventure, he prevails because he is sure. He is who he is. Maybe that’s the hallmark of DC superheroes. The insignia on their chest is a license—a societal approval earned by dealing with certain people in ways the law won’t allow but we feel is maybe necessary. You wear the suit, you then go do heroic things. 

Spider-Man is constantly having to live up to more than just his own self-made mantel. He decides who Spider-Man is, and he’s decided that Spider-Man is gonna use all that power to act responsibly. To act justly. To stick up for the little guy. At the same time, there’s a sense in which he’s Spider-Man no matter what he does. He’s got the powers and the problems even when he tries to throw away the suit or it gets taken from him. He’s got the responsibility to own up to because the world is always asking things from him, just like it does from any of us. 

If Batman took a week off and Bruce Wayne took his private jet on vacation, there’d still be a Peter Parker-like kid somewhere in Gotham just trying to get by. Maybe the super powers take a bit of relatability away from that, but I definitely think Peter would be using his brains and his heart to do good without the suit. I’d like to believe Bruce without Batman would too, but for any sense of realism, he’d have to find a way to deal with that darkness anyway. Knowing all the other super rich, disturbed folks in his universe, maybe he’d be better or maybe he’d be even worse than Lex Luthor. But then, could Spider-Man deal with all the trouble in his life without the ability to inflict violence on his own city’s poor, disenfranchised, and mentally ill? I think his relationship with Aunt May, his friends, his optimism, and swinging on webs around his favorite city certainly help.

It’s a power fantasy, for sure, and there’s a place for that. As a victim of crime, of course I’ve fantasized about beating up criminals. BAM! POW! You bet. 

I think we should question and be very critical of the way violence is portrayed as heroic in our favorite stories. I think the thematic motivation behind any character drives their actions and reactions most, or it should in well-written fiction. 

So I’ll wrap all this up with saying of course that’s fiction. This is real life. Still, from where do we learn our lessons? When you web up some guy and bust his head because he’s breaking into a car, do you care that you messed up and it’s actually his own car? When you get obsessed with trying to prove yourself to a hero because of their legend as an icon, do you consider the economic and social impact of their war-profiteering? Maybe we’ll never have to live up to these specific situations, but it is important to think of the motivation behind our violent action. 

Why do we want to be a global military super-power? Do we act out of a responsibility derived from the power we already hold as individuals and as a collective force? Do we act out of revenge or guilt or self-doubt or fear bred from trauma? Like Rachael said in Batman Begins, “Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better.”

Power and responsibility. Hand in hand. When we continually use our power to dominate over others; when we continue to neglect taking responsibility for those we’ve hurt; when we continually hurt ourselves by taking the blame for what’s not our fault; or when we feel unable to take responsibility for our own actions because of our sense of powerlessness—we gotta go back to our motivations, we gotta be sure of the information behind each situation, we gotta be honest with ourselves and others. 

For the sake of justice, for the sake of right, for the sake of our own story as individuals and as part of a community, we gotta know the why behind our punch before we decide to throw it. 

Thanks for reading, 
Odist


Sunday, July 2, 2017

26/52 - Back to the Grove

"What's coming is bigger than me. The world needs heroes they can know, not gods, to inspire them—show them they can be heroes." 
- Batman (JLA Rebirth #1 Steve Orlando)

Dear Internauts,

I'm sitting here thinking maybe this week I won't post. I mean, what's the point, right? I failed these last 26 weeks at trying to find a way back into some kinda independent life. Despite working hard every day applying to jobs so I could move out of my Aunt and Uncle's house, I could only find temp work, and little at that. Despite the temp work allowing me to pay the rent they asked due to its long hours during the limited run, I was kicked out with little notice as some kind of condescending incentive for me to get my act together. Despite me working every day on my writing and music, it's not like that counts as a job in the eyes of some folks, even if you're able to pay rent.

Not everyone wants to sell their soul to a dead-end corporate job for ten to twelve hours a day ad infinitum. I was told that should be my goal. Normally, I'd say to anyone who thinks that, well, they obviously don't know me or have much sense about anything, but when that person decides if I have a place to sleep at night, I'll try to be a bit more polite. Thing is, I'm feeling absurdly passive aggressive at the moment. I spent the last seven months trying to stay out of the way of folks who had said they were happy to have me as long as I needed. Now, maybe I should know that no one actually means shit like that, and as I've said before, I never intended to be in that house as long as I was. I spent every day trying to leave in fact. I don't like feeling like a hanger-on. I don't like feeling like I'm leeching off the kindness of others beyond what they're happy to provide. Asking for help isn't easy for me. Necessity makes it a bit easier, though.

I kinda went dark there for a few years, between when everything fell apart in Nashville to when I started doing this blog thing on the weekly. As much as I can never truly express the abundance of gratitude I have for my folks allowing me to stay with them, supporting, and encouraging me when I've nowhere else to go and no one else to which I can turn, I still feel a bit like I'm sinking into a hole again. I got back to PA on Friday, unpacked my car on Saturday, and besides a lunch with the fam today, spent most of it just feeling lost and exhausted. If I didn't feel like my life had direction in Massachusetts then how is being back in PA supposed to make me feel?

Now, I more than kinda hate when this blog just turns into a rambling complaint storm. As much as I despise the idea that folks should shut up about their problems because "someone always has it worse"—that's such a dismissive, compassionless, patronizing mode of thought—I do recognize that I've come out of some bad turns in less than the worst of times. Of course there are worse things than feeling lost and worthless and discouraged in your twenties. Of course my many privileges and lucky turns and support systems keep me afloat due to no act of my own or merit I hold. Still, a buoy ain't a sailboat.

So what's next?

We ask that so much, don't we? We ask it as if we ever know. It's short-hand for hope. Truth is, we dangle on high-wires, scratching itches and beating down the bitterness grown from grumpy self-reflection.

I don't even know if I believe in the concept of bad people anymore. I think evil is as much a conceptual tool used to control others' actions as it is our own. We're all pretty scared, and fear keeps us moving. We all find methods of living that work for us, and sometimes those involve helping or hurting others. Sometimes we can tell the difference, but most of the time we're too busy trying not to starve to question our motives beyond familiar patterns of thought and behavior.

I'm an angry person. I'm a sad person. I'm traumatized and slow. I spent too much of my childhood being told how smart I am to know how to work hard at anything I'm not immediately half-decent at. Thus, I know how to give up on myself when it comes to anything I can easily use to declare myself inferior.

When your entire self-image is based on comparing yourself to the arch-tropes of Good and Evil, it's pretty easy to feel both absurdly self-righteous and self-loathing. Maybe growing up is just learning to relate to Judge Frollo, Phoebus, Esmerelda, and Quasimodo all at the same time. Maybe it's going from thinking Holden Caufield is cool to thinking he's sad to thinking he's a person. Characters aren't us, but we craft ourselves out of pieces of mythology, using characters like stained glass, never holding ourselves up to exactly the same light one moment to the next.

I've been lettering the comic, meaning I'm rewriting dialogue and second and third-guessing the placement of word balloons.

I've also got a song or two that could really been something new.

I already miss the ocean, but I certainly don't miss the weird, woodsy, kinda elitist suburb vibe of where I'd been living this year so far. Not that I didn't gag on the scent of mushroom compost being back here in south eastern PA.

On July the 20th, I'll be back in Massachusetts, in Somerville, for the MA Solo Artist Awards show. Please, if you're in the area and free that night, consider buying a ticket and coming. I think it could be a great time. I'll certainly play my heart out, but I only get to play if I can sell enough tickets. So at least if you've read this far down the page consider it. Could be wicked awesome. Here's the link: http://bridgingthemusic.com/events/category/boston/

Of course I'll keep you updated as I do whatever I'll be doing next. This week is gonna be a challenge to stay as far from fatalistic as my music and medication will allow.

I over-share because I care. If you too are struggling to figure out the next moment of your journey, please know you're not alone.

Thanks for reading,
Odist

Sunday, June 25, 2017

25/52 - (That's a Palindrome)

Dear Internauts,

After last week, I thought maybe we'd go a little more chill and upbeat this time.

I'm playing a show!

Or rather, I will be playing a show if I'm able to sell at least fifteen tickets to the event. SO I need your help. Now, this isn't just some sales pitch for something empty which only helps me. You get to come hear me play a live set as well as four other local artists. Even if there weren't any other acts, it would still be worth it, because you're gonna get to see me playing my heart out with songs from deep down in my gut (even deeper down, way deeper down, than this blog goes). This is the real real. And it's live music. After all, this is what I do, right?

I can write and practice all these songs by myself or record with a few friends, but the proof is in the pudding and the live stage is a giant pudding cup.

The show is a 21+ event at the Thunder Road Music Club in Somerville, MA on July 20th. Doors at 6pm. Show at 7pm.

Tickets are fifteen at the door or you can get them now for only 12.99 (that includes processing fee. Just make sure to select Odist Abettor for the artist so they know what's up.

If you're not available on that night or not in the area, thanks for reading down this far. Hopefully, the more I can do shows like this, the more opportunities I'll be able to travel out farther for concert gigs. Please, if you know anyone in the Mass area who might even in the slightest like to go, let them know about it. I supremely appreciate it.

If you've never heard any of my music, well 1) thanks for reading my weird blog posts anyway, and 2) you can listen to my recorded music here and watch some videos with my music here and even follow my band page here

-------------------
With that out of the way, tell me, how ya doin?

Me, I'm exhausted. Been pretty much just exhausted for a while now. I'm sure some of this is due to lack of sleep from stress, but there's also some good stuff like being about two thirds of the way through the first draft of issue one of my comics story. If anyone out there would like to help me out as a beta reader for critique and insights, feel free to message me or email me or comment or whatever.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with some folks with whom I might be living soon. This will be my third such meeting, wherein the scrutiny of others determines my residency status. It's like the most cautious and dangerous job interview that mostly takes place safely on couches. I just have to be sincere yet charming. Interesting yet balanced. Responsible but not snobby. Frank but not insensitive.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Either way, less than five days till I'm outta here.

About to fall asleep on this keyboard, so...

Thanks for reading,
Odist

Sunday, June 18, 2017

24/52 - Politics and Religion (From Your Friend, the Vagabond)

"If I play you a piece of music, that's when you can truly look inside me." 
- Hans Zimmer

Dear Internauts,

Been told I gotta be outta here by the end of the month.

I suppose it's meant to serve as some kinda incentive, but incentive to do what exactly? I would imagine it's to do something I haven't been doing. What haven't I been doing? Well, instead of looking for a job so I can afford to move, I'm now looking for somewhere to move while looking for a job so I can afford to move there.

Of course, the verb "looking" is more than a little skewed.

Let's be real, I can look for and find almost anything these days. That's not the issue. I send you this message on the technological equivalent of a magical bulletin board extending near-infinitely out in every direction. I suppose that in the scope of the infinite, the idea of nearness and far-ness both fade to blankness like a face carved in wood then sanded to obscurity. That is my point about the job market, but it's also my point about identity, politics, and art.

The ability to find a face in the wood is seen as useless to those who define human worth by their ability to rub sandpaper up and down at economically advantageous speeds. To them it's only a matter of getting your hand on the paper and nudging your way into a spot by the timber with a firm handshake and a go-getter attitude.

How many assembly lines does it take to make a worker?

Then again, any philosophy founded on the premise that people have a need to sustain society instead of the other way around is inherently futile as a means to sustain society.

I'm stuck wondering whether I'm ever too political or too personal or too nebulously disconnected in these posts, but that's really a question of whether honest expression is the light, the subject, the reflection, or the shadow of its context.

What is it they say about never bringing up politics and religion in polite company?

Well, I'm not feeling so polite, so let's get political.

I think it's hypocritical and disgusting that we are asked to see the shooting of a member of the government as the somber and tragic victimization of a respectable figure of class while considering our national heroes to be those who continuously and without remorse or recourse kill hundreds of thousands of people who belong to ethnic, national, religious, and/or economic groups against which we are daily propagandized.

Either every act of violence is a tragedy committed against the very heart of our existence OR the specific contents of one's wallet offer the greatest value judgement on the severity of a crime.

People of color are more likely to be shot by police not because they are more likely to be criminals but because they are more likely to be stopped by police due to implicit racial bias. Every single time a person of color is killed by a police officer and the officer is cleared of all charges, it confirms that the legal system parading as shield is actually a knife in the back of liberty. So long as those who are sworn to protect and serve even carry lethal weapons, they stand as a symbol first of death (and obviously at very least of gross misconduct and grosser incompetence).

You wanna talk about some amendment rights which say you can carry death on your hip and support a corporation which runs a huge section of the government via bankroll? At what point does your protection against a tyrannical government require you to actually stand up and do something about it? Because they have all your communications, all your private information, all your transportation, all the biggest toys, and you're wrapped around their finger when it comes to symbols and buzzwords of fear and patriotism. But hey, if you want you can go shoot up a damn ball field. Let's see how much good you do to get your message across when all it does is lead to more empty rhetoric about standing together. Nothing changes in this tyrannical government when schools are razed or millions march. You can't even vote in an election in a country that gets a buzz from the mere whisper of the word democracy, because the electoral college means your vote doesn't mean diddly.

You wanna change something? Let me tell you how it works. You go and stick a gun in someone's face if you think that's the only option and I'll tell you exactly what you'll change.

It was a long, silver revolver like I'd only seen in the movies. So big and polished I was sure it had to be a toy till the barrel made my eyes cross. Everything else in the whole world slipped out of focus except for the roar of his voice and the yellow gleam on that long tube like the sun right before you drive into a midnight black tunnel. Orders like the glare of tanker truck brights smacked my temples as my hands moved to get my wallet, then empty the cash drawer, then lie down on the ground. Don't move or I'll kill you. 

A month later I'd sit with a blood-drenched young woman who'd been beaten to near death by some drunk dates. My head hurts.

Over the next five years I've come to be very well acquainted with the terms Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While every act of scandalous violence that makes the news is either justified under the law, an act of terrorism, or the result of mental illness, none of those things is ever actually true. We could argue for a long time about the semantics of that, but I only have my experience and biases and look at that so do you.

What I do know for certain is that I had mental illness in my life for at least a decade before anyone put a gun in my face. The biggest cause and trigger for this neurological disorder is a piece of advice I'd received my whole life and have continued to receive from the well meaning but blatantly deluded and unsympathetic.

Any time you see someone in pain or going through hard times and tell them the solution to all their problems is that they've just gotta "have more faith", you're being coldhearted and abusive. It could be a form of gaslighting, or at very least boils down to simply saying, "you're not wishing hard enough." For anyone with as much religious fervor as I fanaticized toward for all my childhood and adolescence the message was clearly, "you're not trying hard enough."

I followed everything I ever was taught would lead me to God's will and whenever I thought I had a hint of the scent of the Christian/moral/right way to go I dove after it, no matter the personal pain or the confusion or any mockery. I would do whatever I was asked by those I looked to for guidance because they were people of God. They were that divine voice in my life, and any task they told me to do I would do. If I made them proud, that meant I made God proud. If I did right by them, that meant I was right in the eyes of the Lord. That meant I was a good person. That meant that I wasn't nearly as broken, lost, and confused as I constantly felt underneath it all.

Now, you may have your own relationship with faith that looks and feels nothing like this. I sure hope if you do it is nothing like this. For me, though, it took way too long for me to realize that I was never gonna be good enough for God. I was, after all never good enough for the mentors, leaders, pastors, adults, and older kids I looked up to. Nothing I did was ever good enough. And nothing I did would ever be good enough...so long as they still needed someone as willing and dedicated as I was for their new ministry. All the hard work and leadership and passion was praised because it meant I worked for them and helped them lead and gave legitimacy to their efforts with my emotional, mental, and physical adoration and obedience. Any time they needed something from me I wasn't willing or able enough to provide, it wasn't just a slight against them—it was a slip down into sin against God.

That's called abuse. That's called brainwashing a child and abusing him for decades. I sure hope that's not your experience, but that was mine.

When my questions and my depression and my inability to live up to an ever climbing, unreachable set of standards all got to be too much, that's when all those mentors and friends and "church family" vanished. Some just cut off all ties. Some first made sure I knew how much they despised me and how much I should despise myself. Some tried to pretend like nothing changed, playing like they could be cool with me and cool with those telling me to go kill myself.

I wanted so much to hold onto the culture and family I'd know my whole life that I stuck around through it all as hard as I could for as long as I could.

About a week and a half after I left the hotel job—still very much in shock, neither sleeping or much leaving the house down in Nashville—I got a call from one such church family member. This was the guy I'd wanted to be since I was a toddler. I looked up to him (i'm now ashamed to say) sometimes even more than I did my own father. He'd noticeably dropped all contact the moment I wasn't in the same state, picking up like he hadn't been screening my calls and emails for the traditional hugs all around the few times a year we'd see eachother. I hadn't heard from him since college, and he was one of the last I expected to call. In some ways, I thought in that moment he was who I needed to hear from the most.

After a brief exchange, he asked me to explain what was going on. I did my best in the haze of crazy I boiled in at the time to do so. Like with my boss when I'd tried to explain how if I hadn't helped the lady would have literally died, I really thought if I was clear enough in my emotions and explanation, this old shepherd of mine would see exactly how his sheep was wounded and know just how to help.

To his credit, I guess, he was consistent. Had this been the me of 6 or 16 then maybe his would have been just the healing rain my dried up psyche needed. Instead, he just said what he always did. He said what he'd said so many times to me, and for the first time in my life, his voice and that script did not ring with the power to which I'd been so accustomed. The love I so needed to hear had vanished from his speech like the flavor in a cheap diet drink though the packaging look so much the same.

"You just gotta have more faith. Be like Job. Or Abraham. Or Paul. Or James. If you just have more faith, then God will get you through this."

There's the rub. If only I had what I didn't. If only I could do what I couldn't. Then the God of everything who could do anything would finally deem me worthy of some time.

I couldn't hear love in his voice. Believe me, I searched for it even harder than I'd searched for some kinda sign of escape from that silver revolver. I could, however, hear the self-congratulatory condescension. He'd just thrown it back up over his shoulder and walked away, winking at me as if to say that's how it's done. Instead of nothing but net it was a wide air-ball. (But being as the ball is imaginary, I guess it was all subjective.)

So there's some politics and some religion.

My politics is that I can't tell you how to live your life, but if I feel up to it, maybe the world might be a better place if you and I worked together on it.

My religion is that it's wack to worship the powerful in a universe so intent on wiping out anyone without an edge. It's the weak who deserve praise. Let's build a temple to the pathetic. We're more forgiving and will understand when resources are diverted for something else. We're used to it.

Don't let this blog fool ya into thinking there aren't those who love me. I was raised in a denomination that officially considers me and anyone else a bit too deviant to be an abomination, but I was also raised by two loving parents who believe in me and only brought me to church because it meant something better for them than it did for me. I hope they know that my disappointment in the institution is not a reflection on them, both of whom I've enormously proud. We don't agree on some things, but that's actually for the best. I love them and they love me, and as I get older I've learned to see that quality beats quantity when it comes to those you keep close.

In that sense I say to anyone who may be worried about the world outside the culture you've known. From someone who often isn't sure—especially at this moment—if there is any kinda future ahead, please know that the possibilities for a new life are always unexpected and the risk is worth the jump. No use wasting your life being anyone else's punching bag or scape goat.

And finally, wherever I end up going in the next few weeks, know that I'm gonna be right here in this third space where we meet. I'll be making music and comics and questions. I'll be "thinking too much" in the words of those who'd rather I just not. I hope that in some way me being so open and obnoxious with my brain rumblings could maybe let you know it's okay to be YOU too.

Thanks for reading,
Odist


Sunday, June 11, 2017

23/52 - Easy Street Still Needs a Street Sweeper (Paved with Gold and Tagged in Green)

"Hard knuckles on the second hands of working class watches
Skyscrapers is colossus, the cost of living is preposterous
Stay alive, you play or die, no options
No Batman and Robin
Can't tell between the cops and the robbers
They both partners, they all heartless with no conscience
Back streets stay darkened
Where unbeliever hearts stay hardened
My eagle talons stay sharpened, like city lights stay throbbing
You either make a way or stay sobbin'"

Dear Internauts,

I've been here long enough to wonder why or at very least long enough to eat some local Chinese take-out. Not much for fate or fortunes, but my latest cookie dropped this bit of vagueness, "A new venture will be a success."

That's right, folks; week twenty-three and I've already resorted to fortune cookies for thematic decision-making.

Did you know that success used to describe any outcome, good or ill? While I could perspire over the linguistic/anthropological reasons for why it may have changed to specify the positive (or y'know just look it up), I'd put my chips on the existential sense of wholeness. A venture often doesn't feel complete unless it's completed in the way we'd wish. We've come to expect happy endings in our media and often in our lives as well.

Nothing ever really ends, though, does it? Or is that just me being optimistic?

Whether or not my success is successful of course depends on my goals and aims. It's possible and in fact likely that what I wish and hope for—no matter how clearly I may delineate its terms—will be perceived as inadequate by those with even a slight variance in values.

Success for me may look like loss to you. Success for you may look trivial or irrelevant to others.

Plus, there's the ambiguity of when exactly to take stock of our lives. Sure, it's easy enough to look back at the lives of the dead and subjectively objectify, but I'd guess that most folks reading this now aren't already dead (at least on the outside). While there's still time to make a move or two, is it really fair or even useful to judge a person's existence as a state of success or failure?

I generally suck at math, but I'd guess the likelihood of the exact outcome I hope for every time I make a choice is bound to be in an extreme minority to the possibilities of anything else happening. That makes me wonder if we place higher value on rare success. The greater the unlikelihood of something awesome happening, the better it feels when it happens. I think this is true often enough to make us miss the times when we can be proud of our more ordinary successes.

What we really mean by SUCCESS is a happily ever after, though, isn't it? This state of future settled bliss where the ordinary would appear extraordinary to our present selves.

For some that's a happy home of familial and material wealth. Not necessarily excessive but with more than enough to pay the bills and provide a safe, comfortable environment for the last forty to fifty years of your own life and at least the first eighteen of your hypothetical kids. More love than debt and enough time for friends and hobbies while still working enough to feel like a productive member of society. 

For others, having a clean well less than two miles away, a chicken in the yard, and a healthy minimum of parasitic worms is the height of luxury.

For me, I'd take somewhere to sleep and enough to eat so long as I can spend my time making art. It's not some kinda ascetic aesthetic I'm after or a holier-than-thou minimalism. Really, it's just a longing not to be messed with. The objects I cherish the most are the things I make and the tools I use to make them. I have nothing against this standard of working hard to have a comfortable house and family and salary and all that, but I've all too often been in a position where my inability to really grasp that desire means I'm seen as useless or lazy.

Yeah, I know I shouldn't care so much about what other people think of me, but other people are kinda terrifying. Unlike in high school when I worried if people didn't like my clothes or my hair or my sense of humor, now I'm mostly just worried that the person in front of me in line is gonna pull out a knife or try to strangle me.

The thing about paranoia is it's a lot like racism—it only takes one act of violence to make an entire group look bad in the eyes of the close-minded.

Success, therefore, isn't just a matter of place and possessions but a state of mind. Wouldn't it be nice to have what I want, to live where I want, to be free to do what I want? Wouldn't it be even nicer to be able to think about myself and the world the way I want?

My success won't look like yours. Nor will yours likely look anything like mine. Our goals are different, after all.

If I get a strike but it's in someone else's lane, I don't get to call it a successful bowl. I can try, though, and—to stretch this metaphor out a few frames—I'd say many of us do. It's like buying a car based on city mileage then taking it off-roading. It's like being an expert in arachnology called in to consult on peach farming because fuzzy.

It's like using the priorities and historical context of one generation to make general statements about what a separate generation should be thinking and doing, based solely on what life was like back when you were that age. Sure, I can relate to some of what Nick Carraway is feeling setting out on his own in a new town with new friends, but even an Old Sport like me might have some trouble using The Great Gatsby to find my way around Long Island.

The sleepless dream a lot while the dreamless sleep so silent.

Who knows where I'll be this time next week or the next, but if I decide it's any of your gosh darn bidness, you can be sure it'll be found right here.

Thanks for reading,
Odist

p.s. - Just heard the newest mix of my new single, Painkiller, to come out this summer. Been a long and windy road, but this is still about the music, ain't it?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

22/52 - Personal Responsibility in the Age of Upvotes

"If it's me against me, one of us ain't gonna survive."
-Lupe Fiasco 

Dear Internauts,

Does it count as hypocritical if the double standard is just on two different parts of myself?

This is what wikiquote had to say when I googled "personal responsibility" (because that's the level of research quality you've come to know and expect from this blogger):

Personal responsibility or Individual Responsibility is the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. A corollary idea is that because we cause our actions, we can be held morally accountable or legally liable.

Okay, so free will is a thing, right? Or at least if it's not, it doesn't much matter, 'cause I'll act like it is anyway. I choose to believe I have a choice.

When I take responsibility for my actions, the one to whom I'm ultimately responsible is myself. 

Unlike everything I thought would be most different about adulthood, the one thing I didn't expect was how much no one really cares what I do or say or think about anything. Even in this bright new age of share culture, the amount of content I produce is filtered not for quality so much as for the time and attention span of discerning, respectable, and ridiculously attractive folk like yourself, dear reader. There's just so much out here. 

(I don't know about you, but I'm dying of thirst in the midst of floodwaters. I'll take anything from political flame wars to disaster porn to the most spoilerific plot speculation so long as you can compress that chunk of funk into a bite-size ember of empty brain calories.)

While I'd maybe prefer to think of myself as someone who lives up to my ideals, I'm more someone whose ideals stand back and not-so-quietly critique my living. My understanding of Kant is based on vague memories of readings I skimmed and classes I dosed through back in at most recent 2011. Even so, the whole categorical imperative thing made me kinda nauseous back then. Still does. If there are ways in which people should act in all circumstances, even in the most broad and reason-based sense, there's a problem that arises from our individuality. My reasoning is rarely up to the kind of snuff any sensible person might chew, yet I feel an intense sense of obligation that connects my emotions and my favorite catchy tunes of basic morality. 

When I'm not too busy beating myself up or eating my emotions to care, I have this personality-sized tumor of a jones for a hero complex. I carry my perspective about the goings-on in the world in a backpack to take out and shuffle when I hear the headlines on NPR. Instead of crashing into the day senses first, I experience tunnel vision from my own Cask of Amontillado-esque corner of the baggage department. 

And yes, it not only stems but overflows from my religious upbringing. 

I sure as hell hope this isn't the human condition, but my condition (one of many) is a sense that my motivation through ever role I've ever played has been I don't have a choice in the matter. I have to act this way, have to feel this way, have to say this thing or not say anything. It's claustrophobic, but it's also unexpectedly malleable. 

'Cause folks, listen up—the thing about feeling like I "ought" to be a certain kind of person is how often the only aspect of that person I've been 100% sure of was how NOT that person I am. This pursuit of a moral standard based around an avatar of righteousness is necessarily nebulous. The opposing force is presented as legalism so as to give the appearance of compassion.

It's not that hard to seem merciful with the blade when you're the executioner. Plus, sometimes the only difference between symptoms and side-effects can be the price tag. 

I continue to see myself as less of a person when looking through a lens handed to me by those no longer in my life. That's an infection. That's a contagion. That's a complex of inadequacy that has less and less to do with reality the less and less I buy into the moral framework upon which it's built. 

If I am the arbiter of my actions, then I also must be the framer of my motivations. I don't mean must as in should or ought to. I mean that the posturing or gesturing of social behavior is self-destructive. The very act of interaction is self-destructive unless motivation matches up with intention. (Actual action is important, but not as important as intention.) 

In a broad sense this is why laws will never be enough to shape the morals of a society. If the only reason I do or don't do something is from fear of punishment—be that humiliation, incarceration, or damnation—than all it takes is a might of desire and a mite of opportunity to beat that fear down to not-my-problem. If only beating my fear of standing up to someone spouting hate was as easy as beating my fear of reprisal for spouting hate. Either way, though, that's still placing responsibility for my actions on the shoulders of others. 

I like to think that I didn't come into the world owing anyone anything. That is by no means the same as saying I think I got anywhere by my own strength alone. Societal causality exists, despite what you may have heard from those who can actually afford to put their money where their foot is. I know that I have opportunities, privileges, securities, and much MUCH more that I wouldn't have if I'd been born any different. Sacrifices are made to this day by folks who care enough about me to help my clumsy self out of every pitfall. And I'm grateful to those people. And my gratitude goes to those people. 

There is no cosmic karmic scale by which we are constantly found wanting. You can't have an all powerful force that you thank for all the good in your life without having to do something with all the bad. Whatever your personal coping mechanism is, I won't fault you or attack you. That's your business and I'm just glad you found a way to cope. However, whatever we say our moral philosophy is, the day-to-day necessities of life requires us to have a practical responsibility to ourselves. That is to say you don't owe anyone your self-loathing. 

You don't owe anyone your feeling of worthlessness because you don't measure up to someone else's manipulative standard of perfect behavior. 

Yes, this is as much a personal ideological choice to believe in a subjective reality as any kind of faith you'll find. I get that. There are a great many folks who find more validation in believing that a moral compass exists and should be adhered to from outside of the adherent, often without question. If a morality stems from a force of ultimate good, then it too must be good. 

I think history has enough examples of why the individual is still the one who makes the choice of execution when it comes to following whatever code. It's not just a matter of picking and choosing or even academic interpretation. You and I get to decide for ourselves what it means to be good or bad and why that matters to us as individuals unto ourselves and as members of whatever communities we inhabit. Some communities you don't get to choose to be a part of, but you do get to choose how you're a part of them. 

If the individuals in a group don't want that group to function a certain way, continuing to function that way out of loyalty to a code separate from the will of the individuals is not only asinine but also a quick path to the end of that group. Whether it be the electoral college versus the popular vote or some executive federal decision versus that of local governments or the personal moral conviction of one friend/family member versus the traditions/customs of the others. 

Amazing things can be accomplished when we work together, but that "we" includes every single individual. We can change. We can influence and be influenced. We can share and think and be uncertain. That's great! 

Be uncertain. 

But be certain, too. 

And that's enough of me telling you what to do. I just think I've acted enough out of a position of my uncertainty in the face of other people's certainty. When it comes to my life and my standards, though, I have an "at the end of the day" kinda philosophy. 

I'll have to face myself. So what's the point in hating myself?  

Thanks for reading, 
Odist