Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fundamental Needs

This is going to step on my last trading town post.  Therefore, the reader should know that for a bit I'm not going to write about D&D.  If that's not to your taste, go read that other post: it is much more traditional.

Winston Rowntree, Subnormality, Imagine Accepting the Truth


I've been pulling apart the passage above for a couple of days now and I want to talk about it.

I like Rowntree.  He takes a long time between posting his 'comix' and that's fine, because when it comes around it is like publishing a book.  The link to his latest will take a long time to read, I swear it covers about ten thousand words.  It is three interwoven stories and if you're not the sort who can patiently examine why a particular dialogue needs time to develop and get to the point, it really isn't going to be your thing.  It is my thing, however.  When someone tells me on this blog that they read my stuff and they find themselves wanting, this is how I feel about Winston Rowntree.

Even as I'm writing this, I am not certain just now what I want to say about the above.  It is a tiny piece out of the whole text and in some ways it doesn't stand on its own - yet it is also clearly the writer shuffling off the coil of detachment and letting his blood boil.  Some people dislike this.  I love it.  For me, there is no unforgivable or unacceptable way to express a viewpoint, whatever the format.  Those who like to say the author shouldn't "preach" or break the fourth wall are simply pretentious gits who dislike having to hear anyone's voice but their own.  That is why the "special people who all know each other and talk in waves of in-jokes," what I like to call a group of incestuous butt-fuck government grant dependents, have invented the argument that "It isn't what the author is trying to say, it is what I am trying to hear."

That is a big crock of shit.  I've never gotten along with such people.

Writing this post is a way of thinking through the rant.  I often begin on a subject and find my fingers leading me to a thought process that pops into reality out of the blue.  I often rely on this when starting a post.  At least three fifths of the time I have only a vague idea of what I want to write about, feeling sure somehow that the point will crystallize about halfway through - and it almost always does.  Now and then, it doesn't.  Now and then, I don't publish the post.  Sometimes I do anyway.

It's a subconscious-id-muse thing and I'm certain there are good reasons for it happening - like learning to see things in our peripheral vision without looking directly at them.  The brain is such a nifty tool it works on levels we don't directly use or often understand.  Writing for me is a way of tapping into those levels.

This brings me to confidence, in myself and my skillset, something that is central to Rowntree's full story (see, I just had one of those crystallizations, even as I was writing out the sentence).  The rant is delivered to a young woman who is thinking of doing stand-up but hasn't the nerve to try it, delivered by a musician who is struggling with his own art against various obstacles, including his own band's apathy and his acute sense of carrying on a pretense or charade in order to write and produce the music that meets his emotional/intellectual minimum.  Inherent in the rant is a sense of frustration coupled with the outside perception of people that "artists" are this or that, a definition he cannot accept as remotely descriptive of him.  Throughout the story, he's feeling a sense of gentle worship for him and at the same time he's faced with the stark comprehension of being greatly appreciated and admired despite his not being able to transform that honest emotion into the personal need he has to prosper.  He's a bum.  A bum with immense talent and respect from outside, but a bum.

I relate to this character.

This blog is a microphone in front of something I feel strongly about.

I do think this is the greatest job in the world.

I think about my identity a lot, most of all recently.  Step by step, this past year, my back has been pressed up against a wall and more and more this year my identity has been challenged and put in danger of compromise.  I am like that fellow sitting on his bed, the side table drawer open, gun sitting on top of his socks and skivvies, wedged between the change-box and the electric razor he never uses, staring.  Staring and wondering if he would get caught robbing the Kwik-e-Mart if he drove four hundred miles to Louisville in a car he borrowed from a not-that-close a friend from work.  He knows he can't do it, he knows he doesn't have bullets for the gun, he knows in a few minutes he's going to close the drawer and stop having these thoughts and go into his daughter's bedroom and kiss her forehead and not risk ever putting himself in prison, even if it does mean losing the house and moving into his parents' basement with his whole family.  But he keeps staring at the gun because, well, the gun is there and the thoughts are there and they won't go just because he bids them go.

Now, I don't own a gun.  I don't own a car.  I don't live anywhere near Louisville and my side table is a filing cabinet full of old gaming stuff and books.  This is a metaphor.  It is about compromising principles - and how we think about it and how far we'll go in that compromisation, if things don't get better.  It is about shame and what we'll do that breaks our pride, balanced against what we think we deserve and what we'd do to special and rewarded.  By degrees we're all pushed to eat our allotted portion of shit, one spoonful at a time at the behest of those who have power over us.  By degrees we all lower our sense of deserving and our expectation of reward in the face of that.  This is how it goes.

I do recall wanting a clubhouse and I did get that from time to time.  Turning to the theater as an activity would have appealed to my much younger self as a means of being accepted and finding that source of artists and fans engaged in shop talk.  There were moments when that happened, even periods where it was sustained for a while, because I met and associated a group of people who happened to feel similar to me about what drama was about and how hard we were driven to work on it.  None of those things lasted, however, because I'm me and sooner or later the microphone in front of my mouth, expressing my ideas, was going to fuck the people who just wanted to be in a clubhouse sideways.  Even when I was on the inside as an artist I never did embrace the clubhouse because I always, fucking always, got wrapped up in the possibility and the process and the message-making and how hardcore I wanted to make that message happen.  Over and over, every clubhouse I ever belonged to would drive me out for such ideas and that would drive me ever more towards writing, the art I do myself for myself by myself in this room on this keyboard in a silence broken only by the sound of keys.

This intransigence is my identity and it is the thing that makes me worthy of any notice.  It is also the thing that can be compromised, that is being compromised, that can't help feeling the bricks of the wall starting to grind its spine.

Here I am, near the end of this post, mostly on message.  Without a doubt, I am long past the point where I need anyone's licence to express my thoughts; but there is no time in anyone's life where we're certain our thoughts matter.  "Mattering" is key and it's what none of us have control over.  My deepest error in youth - not unique to me - was thinking that I knew what mattered.  An error I am still making.  But hell, all I can do is guess and keep guessing and eventually count on surviving long enough to find the right answer.

If that means making another compromise and surviving a little longer, counting on the next message or the one after that, or the one after that, to hit its mark and so matter, then that is what it means.  It is, as Rowntree says, my fundamental need.

6 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Haven't read Subnormality in a while. Thanks for the link, it was a good read.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

How can yo usay this (fictional) individual is a bum? How can you say you relate to such? You feel you're a "bum?" How can you say that?

Because you find yourself compromising (or tempted to compromise) your artistic principals in order to survive in order to continue doing the thing you love? That's not being a bum...that's being practical. That's being grounded in reality. That's being an artist...because who gives a shit what you do, art-wise, if you're not sharing it with others? What's better...not sharing it?

The expression is the important thing...work you keep to yourself isn't art. It's just work. Just practice. Just masturbation for all that it matters. And maybe your art won't "matter" that much to others...it won't matter AT ALL if it isn't shared.

You may claim your stubbornness as your identity...personally I don't see that as the thing that makes you "worthy of any notice." It's not your extreme opinions or pig-headed paradigm that people come here to read (at least, I don't). Rather it's your intelligence, your passion, and your dedication that you're willing to share with us, your readers. THAT's what makes you worthy of notice.

I don't know...maybe I'm reading your post the wrong way, but it sure sounds like it's coming from a place of doubt. Or insecurity. Or something. Which is fine...all us bloggers shouting in the dark feel that at times, especially when we're not receiving the feedback we'd like. But...for fuck's sake, Alexis...even if the guy in that story FEELS like a bum, he should understand that he's still an artist...that he's sharing his work, that he's inspiring others, that his message of self-expression to the would-be stand-up might be just the slap-in-the-face that she needs to become the next great thing. Hell, even if she doesn't, it won't be because he kept his opinions to himself...he still shared, and he should realize the value in that.

Or maybe he doesn't because he's a dumb-shit, self-absorbed musician (I've known a few). But even if HE (the fictional character) is too dumb to understand, YOU aren't.

Pride, attachment, non-compromise...that stuff is of little worth. There are people making stuff, art, out there, and even if I consider most of it crap, even if most of the world considers it crap, it doesn't mean that there wasn't someone (or will be someone) to whom it MATTERS, who is moved and inspired and/or profoundly changed upon encountering it. Which only happens when it's shared, of course.

But maybe I'm just reading this post wrong and you just wanted to hip us to Mr. Rowntree's work. Perhaps I'm just flying off the handle here because it's 5:30am, I haven't slept, and I need to get up in the next 3 hours. If that's the case, I apologize (especially if anything I've written gives offense). Sometimes I get a little nutty.

Vlad Malkav said...

For what it's worth, I feel that your thoughts matter a lot. They inspire, guide, offer and provoque insight, make wanting for more ...

They're like a crack in the mind, readying it for expansion.

James Clark said...

I read it the other way, JB. He's a bum because he can't pay the mortgage, doesn't own a car... but he accepts that with almost a sense of resigned amusement. "Yeah, I'm a bum, but I'm living my life on acceptable terms. Maybe not my ideal terms because I'm not paying the bills with my art and occasionally eating shit like everybody else, but acceptable terms. I'm still in the game. I'm still taking a shot at mattering."

And I disagree that his pig-headedeness is not what makes him matter. It's exactly what makes him matter. Art is work. Anybody can be inspired. An artist, a writer... they work hard to turn that inspiration into something that matters. To continue to work so hard on the thing that doesn't pay your bills and sees you tossed from club after club is what will eventually make you matter.

I look forward to Alexis's response, though.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It's okay that you're mad at me, JB. That gun metaphor was pretty harsh.

Ozymandias said...

Thank you.