Monday, September 25, 2017

38/52 - Motivation: Pleasure versus Pain

"A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment." - B. F. Skinner

Dear Internauts,

Advertisements are like the human business equivalent of a dog peeing somewhere to say, "this space is mine".

How often do we agree or disagree with an idea not because of our knowledge of the facts but because of how the idea makes us feel?

Back in college, a peer once brought up the idea that the central motivation for human behavior is found in the pursuit of pleasure.

At the time I disagreed because of the stock I put into the character of the charitable person, one whose selfless acts derived from a deeply ingrained compulsion toward communal improvement. Obsessively religious at the time, I couldn't imagine a world in which morality did not radiate directly out from the central being of a moral god. In my mind, any good which existed, existed as an inescapable aspect of a universe with a good god at its center. Everything that was served as illustration of the character of the divine. Of course, this completely ignores how we come to terms with the bad stuff in the universe. Often, answers for evil and/or pain group them all under the incomprehensible umbrella of a good god's will, disregarding the importance of the horrid suffering to the human condition in favor of the idea that we are all too small and stupid to get how things really work. Or, I've also heard that any bad is simply what exists on the other side of the good, like the land where the sun doesn't reach. Mufasa says don't go there, but we sneak out anyway in the promise of an elephant graveyard. But since human suffering is apparently inescapable in this life, the best we're told we can do is to push ourselves closer and closer to the center of positive radiation, pulling our legs under the covers away from the prying hands of the carnal boogeyman. In this case, pain and evil is not the fault of the divine but something else, and our falling into it is all on us. If only we had more faith, we wouldn't be suffering so.  My spiritual education at the time taught me that either the experience of the bad is our fault or that it's not really that bad at all if only we could see the truth. Switching between variations on these two themes kept the fault off of the only one with the real power to do anything about it—the deity—in favor of keeping us little people in check. 

There is a search for pleasure to be found in doing what we think we're supposed to do, but the main reason we search for pleasure in life is, to my reckoning, what makes it a secondary goal. Above all else, human motivation is defined by fear.

I'm fully willing to believe that it's not as simple as that, that we're actually pretty complex and whether it be the pursuit of pleasure or the escape from terror, neither comes close to fully encompassing our will. The real issue is that in either case, our will is defined by that which manipulates us into action. Desperately, even.

Hope for reward and fear of punishment are tools for teaching behavior. Despite what we've gladly brought with us from the class structure of our primate ancestors, keeping others weak and afraid is not actually the best way to instill loyalty. Positive reinforcement continues to test better and better and better for teaching desired behavior.

I don't consider this to be a point toward PLEASURE in the V. FEAR debate, but I do think it points to the way we handle the logical reasoning behind our actions. If the only reason I perform an action is because of my fear of a particular punishment, I can be traumatized enough to oblige. However, this isn't a binary. Human beings have this tricky thing where we're constantly questioning ourselves and the way the world works, going along with how we feel at any one point or what seems right in the moment over what we may have learned through pain or reward as a little one.

Today, I'd probably stand more with fear being a base motivator in the big general sense, but I think that can also drive people to seek tiny glimpses of happiness within the yawning void. I think there are a lot of people who only act like they care about one another because they're terrified of the spiritual implications of acting out. I also think that for the rest of us, empathy with another person's situation and feelings is an even greater motivator toward sharing our love.

Maybe the human condition is an ultimately terrifying, lonely, flickering, meager existence.

But within that sliver of time, we can share a bit of our bread, a bit of our light, a bit of our mutual understanding.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 18, 2017

37/52 - The Mad Malaise

Dear Internauts,

I find my ability to blog passing later and later in time, ideas harder to come by, and any confidence in the worth of what I might type slipping from my brain like something small in an ever-weakening grip.

How weird is it that such long hours add up so quickly to rushing days and stacking seasons? I'll be 27 in a few days short of a month, and yet I feel like I'm in much the same place as I was years ago. Everyone I knew has moved onto a kind of adulthood I can hardly fathom. Every semblance of certainty in my own identity broke down in a landslide to leave me hanging by my fingertips.

Are you fulfilled in your daily doings? Does life add up to at least the sum of its parts? I think the times in my life when I was absolutely sure I knew what I was doing were all times when I was doing exactly what was expected of me. Now even the lightest of possible expectations seem so far out of reach, I imagine I'd be of more use if someone else were to rent out the space I'm taking up.

I also think I may have dreamed that I'd already written this weeks blog. I was only reminded I hadn't when I realized I also had yet to renew the hosting subscription for my website. Since my website mainly only exists as a hub for social media and music-related posts, this blog being the most regularly updated, it all circles back around to a general lack of energy.

So I do the check-list in my head. Have I...
-Gotten enough sleep?
-Eaten recently/enough?
-Taken my medication?

Beyond those three, the real solution is usually simply mustering up the mechanical will to move. Such a thought exists in the strange, gaseous barrier between deeper cognitive functions and simple reflex. An atom of motivation in that protoplasmic goo is rarer than a meaningful deconstruction of the social and metaphysical ramifications of violence as a solution to the protagonist's issues in an action flick that syncs the sound of gun-fire to the percussion in the trailer's remix of a classic rock song.

Of course language and motor function are separate enough that I can think the word type as much as I want while still finding my fingers' inability to do so just as unfaltering.

Still, this numbing malaise is a comfort in how far it is from the world of torturous madness that results when I can't sleep or eat or take my meds. At my current age and lack of employment (employability), the only way I can get said meds is through an insurance system that cares more about my health as a human being than I'm able to manage most days.

So, for anyone who thinks that health care shouldn't be given to folks like me, while I can understand on a deep level why you may consider me unworthy, I will remind you that in the right light I can look down and still see the thin white lines carved into my arms. Mental illness is a weird thing sure, but if it makes it easier, let's think of it on the more streamlined form of any other illness that could kill without proper medication. Maybe you can't breathe in the ever-more-poisoned air? Maybe your guts shut down? Maybe the electricity in your brain got a little too excited and half your body went slack? Conservative thought might be that the companies who make and sell drugs to help with such issues should be able to make a profit off their work, thus enriching the economy enough that those or other businesses can afford to pay workers enough to afford those drugs. Liberal thought might be that the government should crack down and force drug companies to provide their drugs for a price reasonable enough that businesses won't have to pay their workers that much just so the workers can buy the drugs. These are both oversimplifications, and so is the idea that maybe the point of medicine shouldn't be who makes a profit but who gets to survive? Because right now, who gets to live is whoever can afford it.

If you only get to live in the system if you can succeed enough within it to
participate and enrich it, then the system is more important than its participants.

Maybe people are so mad about those they feel are leeching off the system because they think the system owes them something for all their hard work. Maybe they think acknowledging how much was handed to them somehow denies all the struggle they've put in to make the system keep working.

The problem isn't us or them, it's the system that makes the divide.

As long as we're fighting eachother, we'll be too busy to see that we've got options.

In college, I once had a pre-med major tell me they didn't want me to think they were selfish for wanting doctors and nurses and medical technicians to be paid a fair wage. I asked them why they thought I'd think they were selfish, and it was because the only way they could see a fair wage happening was at the expense of those who needed health care. I'd recently done a big project on universal health care, and the truth is I can understand why they thought I'd get angry. I was a jerk then, maybe even more than I am now. Still, what I couldn't articulate then is that the battle shouldn't ever be between those who need help and those who can give it. The journey should always be hand-in-hand trying to make it as easy as possible for those who can (and want to) help to give it to those who need it.

That has so much more going on to it than just money, but how often is money the constant barrier in the way of finding a better solution. Does that show the importance of money or reveal how big a distraction it is from the point?

While we beat on one another over misunderstandings, there are plenty who profit on keeping us from looking too closely.

So what do we do?

What do you want to do?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 11, 2017

36/52 - This Mad Human Mess

"Yeah, but I'd be open. And then I'd look in your eyes, and I'd cry, and I'd like feel all this stuff and that's like not polite." - Caveh Zahedi 

Dear Internauts,

I hate that it's always the whole country blamed for the actions of its leaders. We in the US know that we're not always in line with our government, but we talk as if every other government is indistinguishable from their country as an entire entity. The people of North Korea certainly should not be punished for the actions of their government. Thus, I suppose, one of the big problems with any war or military action at all. Whether it be a government or a violent sect within certain borders, the massive casualties of those not involved or responsible should be accounted for by those doing the killing. Instead, we continue to bomb across the Middle East. We threaten entire populaces because of the words and actions of a few.

Really, it's an extension of the way we view eachother. I can see my own intentions and complex motivations as extending from an individual will and unique worth. However, my first thought on seeing anyone else is to place them within an oversimplified category. If I almost back out of a parking spot into your car, it's because I've got a mind full of stress and problems and distractions, and I'm usually a much more conscientious driver. If you do it, though, you're just another bad driver belonging to some prejudicial stereotype.

How many attempts at discussing issues of gender, race, culture, sexuality, or class become immediately derailed by the clumping of a large number of people into a single homogenized box defined by stereotypes?

On the other hand, how many times do we justify our inclusion within the same group as an offender by claiming that they don't represent what it truly means to be a part of our side?

More responsibility for checking our like should certainly fall on us for the groups we choose to join than those we are inherently a part of by no will of our own. Still, to confront the injustices in larger society is impossible without admitting and addressing the imbalance applied to inherent differences.

It's a troubling trend of internet discourse not to allow anyone to make a mistake without pummeling them with hate and anger. We need to allow ourselves and each other the time and space to learn, otherwise there will only be different sides screaming at eachother. If we're actually trying to do better than we have been, we've gotta learn from and help one another to grow not just as better members of whatever groups we join or fall into but also as members of the larger human collective and as conscientious creatures of Earth.

What it comes down to is EMPATHY. Instead of jumping immediately to all the anecdotal evidence we accumulate which confirms our presuppositions about "those people", we can take a second to check our attitude and make an effort to step into their shoes. That's not a go for making assumptions that someone else is just like us, because that too is a dangerous level of close-mindedness. That being said, there's little harm to be found in respecting others enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If I can't eat, can't pay rent, can't get a job, can't function in a society that places so much weight on my shoulders to be financially stable and to strive for flashy prosperity—if the goal post keeps moving and the chains keep tying me down and I am left with no other options I can see for long enough, then if I steal to get by, am I an evil, irredeemable monster?

A man in a mask with a big, silver gun ruined my life and broke my mind for a drawer of singles and my empty wallet, but when I dig down and get really really really really real, I've gotta admit that he wasn't some isolated anomaly of meaningless evil. The true crime is a lifetime of circumstances and systems and dashed opportunities compounding together to fail him so hard that the best option he could see was to run through that door.

This isn't a dismissal of personal responsibility but a call to it.

We get to decide what kinda world we want to live in, what kinda society we want to build, what kinda future we want to set out towards. If we want laws and governments which serve the people and protect us, then we can't keep pretending that other people's problems don't matter.

It's not that you owe anyone anything or that you're bad and should feel guilty. That kinda shaming is for the pious and personally, it's gotten me nowhere but the pits.

The point is—despite all my nihilistic introversion—to participate in the human race is not optional. You exist. You are complex and beautiful and meaningful, and you may love or hate yourself but you know there's a lot going on inside you. All I'm proposing is that there's a lot going on inside me too. And inside everybody.

And maybe we're all a mess, and that's okay.

Because maybe we can be a mess together.

Thanks for reading,

p.s. - if you haven't heard it yet, here's my song about trying to find something for the pain

p.p.s. - and here's a video of Jim Carrey on painting

Monday, September 4, 2017

35/52 - Movies, Music, Moving, and a Dog Named Dunkin

"Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?" - Blaise Pascal

Dear Internauts,

I've been trying for the past twenty-four hours or so to synthesize some kinda something worthy of blog-time.

Honestly, I don't really know what I'm doing lately. See, this past week and a half or so, I've been house and pet-sitting for my folks while they help my grandparents with the enormous task of moving. As you may know, New Jersey charges all those who try to leave. Plus, the task of emptying out a house full of decades is neither quick nor simple. Thankfully, my parents took a bit of time this past week for a break up in a Maine cabin belonging, I think, to my mom's cousin. They don't really take vacations like ever, so I was glad they were able to get away even if only for a short time and even if bookended by lots of extra work.

I haven't really left the house much, as I don't want to leave the dog alone more than a few hours. I've seen a few different films, but as both the internet and a few box office cashiers have told me, this has been an outlier of a dry summer's end for the movie business.

Thus here are all the movies I have seen in theatres from May, June, July, and August:

  •  Guardians of the Galaxy 2* 
  • Alien: Covenant*
  • Wonder Woman**
  • It Comes At Night*
  • The Hero
  • The Book of Henry**
  • The Beguiled*
  • The Big Sick**
  • Baby Driver
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming**
  • War for the Planet of the Apes**
  • Dunkirk*
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  • Atomic Blonde*
  • An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
  • The Dark Tower
  • Detroit*
  • Wind River*
  • Logan Lucky
  • Patti Cake$*
  • Birth of the Dragon*
*Movies I would probably recommend, just def not for everyone
** Movies I would definitely recommend for almost everyone

Movies I think I'd like to check out for the rest of 2017 could include: 
  • It
  • Mother!
  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • The Foreigner
  • Happy Death Day
  • Marshall
  • Professor Marston & The Wonder Women
  • Goodbye Christopher Robin
  • The Snowman
  • Suburbicon
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Lady Bird
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Justice League
  • Wonder
  • Coco
  • Molly's Game
  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Shape of Water
  • Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I've got the first few drafts of a script for chapter 2 of the graphic novel down, so I'm gonna work on doing thumbnails and tightening up the dialogue this week with a look to getting the art started ASAP. 

If you haven't had a chance to check it out, yet, please take a listen to my new track PAINKILLER.

Have a great week, folks! 

Thanks for reading, 

Monday, August 28, 2017

34/52 - New Music!

Dear Internauts,

Here it is folks. You've been patient, and it has been well worth it. Click this link to head over to my music page on where you can listen to and buy my newest track for download.

So much heart, time, and work went into making this my best recording so far. I could not have done it without the brilliant drumming from Joe Tounge, and the multifaceted instrumental, engineering, and production work from Joe Casey. It's great to get to work on music with my friends, and it's even better when those friends are so talented and willing to put in the time and energy to make that music all the better. This song is one that comes from a place of real honesty, and I hope you can connect to it and enjoy it.


Cast away your weary woes behind from yesterday
It's okay, tomorrow's on its way or so they say
Mask the pain
A sleeve-worn heart for a start, but scars remain
Take the blame
You're handed as your loved ones walk away

I need a painkiller to take my pain away
I need a time filler to make my mind okay
I need a strong will, or a new pill, or a great escape
I need a painkiller

Faster now, we're screaming at the speed of social sound
Dangling doubts like chains around our necks, we all look down
Gather 'round, head toward the sea to see the pleading crowds
Heavy-browed, we shake in silence as the sun slips out

I need a painkiller to take my pain away
I need a time filler to make my mind okay
I need a strong will, or a new pill, or a great escape
I need a painkiller

Let my shoulders roll like waves
Let my eyes look out the cave
Let me go, let me go
No one talks, there's nothing to say
And yet we talk the world away
So let me go, let me go

I need a painkiller to take my pain away
I need a time filler to make my mind okay
I need a strong will, or a new pill, or a great escape
I need a painkiller

Thanks for reading and for listening,

Monday, August 21, 2017

33/52 - I MADE A COMICS (and other nonsense)

"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." - Jean-Paul Sartre

Dear Internauts,

Not much to say this week. In all honesty I've been trying to come up with something to post but am fairly drained after finishing up with a certain project FINALLY.

Might not be what you were hoping, but yes, Chapter One of my graphic novel project is done. Chapter Two should take less time, I'm hoping, as most of these past months were all about learning how in the world to make a comic as much if not more than how to make this comic.

I'm still not sure how to best share this with you. I've sent a few folks the google drive link to a pdf file as it's too large to attach directly to an email. When I tried compressing it lost serious image quality. All this goes to show that I know way less about computers than probably most people my age. I'll be figuring out what to do with this later, but for now we can just celebrate that I made something, right?

Anyway, here's the cover!

So with that checked off, I've started to rewrite the outline for the bigger story. In writing this first chapter a whole lot has changed, and I feel like I've grown both as an artist and a writer. It's been pretty weird, as I drew all the time growing up and have always loved comics, but never really considered making them until this year. 

I'll be starting on chapter two as soon as I get it written, and hoping that it should take much less time now that I know a bit more of the format. 

Also, my producer has had a lot going on in his life, thus why the songs I recorded last fall have taken so long to come out. I've started work on a lyric video and want to get the song and video to you as soon as they're ready. As with anything, the more folks you bring into it the more complex it gets. Still, I feel like this music is all the better for being in these other hands. 

I want to get back into writing songs on a regular basis. Truth is, I felt like I really failed by not being able to make it work in Massachusetts. I'm still not sure what the next step is, but I think for now I've gotta keep working on becoming a better writer, artist, and musician, performing more, and try to pick up some kinda work so I can save up for whatever may come. My fam's been busy with a lot of changes going on, but I'm wicked grateful for my folks being there to help me stay strong and move forward. 

Mental illness is a helluva thing, and some days I still feel more losing than anything. I gotta take advantage of those rare times when I do have the energy and motivation to make something unique and real. 

All in all, we're only our most honest selves. Everything else peels like old paint. 

There's no room for the oppression of fascists, racists, bigots, and haters in a genuine, loving, progressive society. I stand with all those who stand against institutions of hateful prejudice. 

Hope you have a great week, and happy ECLIPSE!

Thanks for reading,

p.s. - if you haven't seen it, this Tina Fey video is spot-on and hilarious

Monday, August 14, 2017

32/52 - The Tunes of My Youth

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." - Noam Chomsky

Dear Internauts,

Been spending most of my time trying to finish up with this chapter of my graphic novel. It feels like so much of life has flown so far out of my own hands, I don't even know where to start grasping. But this little bit I can do. Write and draw and try and make something half decent maybe.

Growing up, I only really listened to "Christian" music. I don't think it was a rule that I not listen to secular music, but I only got new cds when we went to the religious book store. I had no reference point with friends or culture to suggest anything outside of the kind of gospel pop with which I was familiar. The loudest opinions I ever heard about secular music were from those most outlandish haters who believed anything referring to sex, drugs, alcohol, or even a somewhat negative disposition was enough to be deemed the devil's music.

So I got the equivalent of knockoff brands. Supposed soundalikes stylistically, who were more often than not just slight hues off from the same ten to fifteen years behind mesh of poorly-balanced easy listening. Sure, there were flavors akin to rap or hard rock, but rarely anything that tried to be fresh or take real artistic chances. The goal, sound-wise, seemed to be to never stray too far from what you may hear if the church worship band found a drum machine or an overdrive pedal they really dug.

I think there are a lot of really talented, hard-working musicians in the Christian scene, sure, but growing up with it, I can tell you it hit like a sack of amps when folks first started to introduce me to actual metal or jazz or classic hip-hop and rock music. To think that the music itself wasn't simply a vehicle to carry the same bland message again and again, but was an end onto itself—that just bowled me right over.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what Linkin Park has meant to me and other folks in the wake of Chester's passing. One of the biggest things that hit me with their music and truly with his performance of it, was that pain and uncertainty were in plain view.

A kind of hardcore, emo, and more brutally honest flood of music hit me around the end of high school, past due for a lot of great groups, LP included. The biggest difference—and the reason why, say Emery or My Chemical Romance or now folks like Watsky or Childish Gambino really connect with me—is it's all about accessibility of the emotional weight in the art.

All those artists when I was growing up, trying so hard to walk this line between cool and missional, rock star and evangelist, performer and worshipper, they all wanted to take the listener to a particular place. All the same place, really. Mostly, they all seemed to want to already be there. Any brokenness displayed had to be soon followed up with healing. Every problem had a solution. Every line declaring personal struggle must coincide with another in praise to the ultimate deity.

Like all music, it has some level of emotions attached. I know from all those years in worship bands that it is an extreme course in manipulating the emotions of a crowd. Mob mentality with a soundtrack. You get hype at church camp or during revival and this is the part that gets stuck in your head. I know all the tricks and the contradictions, so I can't say that folks' hearts aren't in a good place. Still, many people don't get the kinda power they wield over this captive audience. Everyone there wants to fit in with the vibe. It feels good, because it was designed to. It wants to take you to a place.

If the bus is leaving and headed toward the horizon, but it never stopped to pick you up where you live, then you're always gonna be chasing after its exhaust, choking on dissatisfaction. I'm not saying it's better to ruminate, because I do think the best art can transport you, for sure. But the real meaningful stuff first meets you where you are. It doesn't talk down to you and criticize your pain as some sign of failure. It doesn't flog you with your weakness from a place of self-righteousness.

The art that really matters, lasts, and resonates first comes from a place of honesty. That's not saying "oh we're all broken and evil but God's not so it's all okay." It's saying, "hey these are my pieces and maybe I'm broken or maybe the connections are just not so easy to see right now and it's okay if it's not all okay."

I grew up so terrified of being real about my doubts, insecurities, awkwardness, and quirks. Partially, I see now that coming to terms with these things and facing them head on and arms open is a matter of being able to find relational touchstones. Hearing that someone else has been down the same road doesn't have to make me feel like "oh humanity sucks so much, we're all doomed." Instead, I can look at the bravery it takes to be real and share your scars in your art. That reaches a place in me that chasing after some bland, shiny bit of mold-fitting power-worship can't.

Tough honesty can meet me where I am, thus earning the right to take me on a journey of discovery. Trying to drag me there or forcing me to constantly play catch-up may sell a few Christmas albums, but it will always feel more hollow than whole.

Thanks for reading,