Why I Art

I’ve taken up photography and videography this summer. It’s always interested and awed me, but I never thought I had the eye or creativity to perform as well as all the other awesome photographers around me.

Sure, I used to record silly movies with friends and I got an expensive point-and-shoot camera for high school graduation, but I never showed or recognized any particular aptitude.

But studying story led me to books about screenwriting, which led me to consider visual storytelling and direction. I watched many, many hours of YouTube videos about filmmaking and visual composition.

In short, I got the bug. Then I talked myself (and eventually my wife) into dropping some mad dough on a camera, for a couple of reasons—one being that if I invested into it, I’d keep doing it, keep learning.

And so I carry my camera around, shooting what I see, amid snickers and stares from family and strangers.

This new way of living sparked an interesting discovery this morning. I wondered why. Why do I have so many artistic interests? Though self-doubt blocks me from taking pride in most of them, I argued with myself that my joy and desire come way before the results of the art I produce.

Before I began writing regularly, I already knew why I wanted to. And the rest of the mediums that I dabble in provide the same kinds of benefits that writing does. Maybe it has something to do with a pantheistic or mushy emotional value I place in art, and maybe I’m wrong but this is why I art.

It helps me experience the world better. The locus of this realization was David Foster Wallace, which I admit makes me feel a tad pretentious. But it’s true. Maybe it was just the time in my life that I read him, or maybe he’s a literary deity—or probably, both. But he saw the world well. And I want to do the same thing. I want to have empathy for everyone and learn/feel their stories. I think people are the most important things on the planet, and I believe personal relationships are my ties to people, and those relationships happen only through communication, and our primary way of communication is language. So I write, I learn story.

The other mediums help me see the world in the same way, because (here comes that mushy thing I was talking about) art is a reflection of life, it’s a manifestation of the way someone (or a community) sees the world. So I wish to learn as much as I can about the creation of art for two reasons: (1) to develop taste, to appreciate and understand others’ art better, in order to experience the world more fully; (2) to express my understanding of the world, which has a reciprocal/reflexive effect of making me more aware of the world.

Note: “world” is pretty vague. By it, I mean everything (e.g., physical, metaphysical, epistemological, etc.). So, that’s not better, huh.



And sure, among the many doubts I have is that if I’m switching between writing and music and photography and graphic design that I’ll never master any of them, but the quick, logical argument (the one I’d vehemently argue in a coffeeshop) is that I’m not interested in being a good artist as much as I am in being a good person. And I think art helps me.

Slapstick – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was one of the authors who welcomed me into adult fiction, or adult-themed fiction. So I go about the world with an understanding that he has impacted me and my reading. I respect him, which is clearly seen by my inclusion of the erudite “Jr.” after his name.

My wife also really likes his work. While we were dating, she read all of his long fiction—so, yeah, her birthday and Valentine’s Day were graciously easy one year.

The first of his books I read was Slapstick. I saw a used copy at a used bookstore and picked it up because it had a clown’s face on it and its first line was instantly inviting. I had heard of the author, Mr. Vonnegut, from a friend, whom I respected. My friend was reading Cat’s Cradle, which is probably my favorite novel by Sir Jr, and he had that book ostentatiously sitting in his passenger seat when I entered the vehicle one afternoon.

When I got home with my new clown-clad book, I was expecting some uproarious alone time. My expectations were engendered by the raving claims all over the front-/back-covers (just above the clown’s drawn eyebrows and below his painted lips). The claims said my gut would be busted and my side would be split and that I’d, in short, look like the clown after reading it, my face becoming that permanent rictus of the joyful because I’d—just as my grandmother warned—made the same face (a grand smile here) so much that it had stayed that way.

That didn’t happen.

However, I did smirk at some things. And I failed to understand others, which made me think that I didn’t understand the things I smirked at, which added to the whole discouraging affair. Thankfully, I have been equipped (a priori) with the facility of finishing. I dislike bookmarked books. I must assist that little booger on his quest to escape, so I read (except Twilight—there’s a copy of that book somewhere in the world that I started, and there is a sad, sweet, little bookmark, between pages 73 and 74, stalwartly fighting the good fight, keeping my page, a page that will forever be unturned).

So I persevered. I finished the book. And now, I think, that much of my praising of Mr. Vonnegut was really a positive projection (or is it displacement?) of my satisfaction with having finished a book I didn’t fully understand. I had read a book, but saying I’m such an awesome and cultured teenager because I read Kurt Vonnegut was somehow too much, so I instead said that the book and its author were great, which obliquely but sufficiently delivered the image of myself I wanted people to see, because saying Vonnegut was great meant I had read Vonnegut, which meant I was smart.

So now, something like ten years after I first read Slapstick, I returned to it.

The book is an autobiographical sketch by a 100-year-old, Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, living in a post-apocalyptic NYC. He gives his current living conditions, which are characterized by a deluge of ignorance—ignorant people ignorantly acquiescing to ignorant situations. And then he shares his life’s story, which is meant to explain how the world became the way it is, Mr. Swain being at the center of the change, not causing it but witnessing it (though he played his part; we all do).

So I didn’t really like the book because it didn’t feel like a real story. It felt instead like a sequence of outlandish events that were all constructed so that Vonnegut could turn a hyperbolically enlarged mirror to us, which held our own American and ignorant image. Yeah, that sounds mean. And the humor that was there felt stale in such a way that it didn’t pay off the debts the story incurred. And there was no answer offered. In fact, it felt so defeatist that an answer doesn’t exist in Slapstick’s universe except for exceptionally small Asians who do not share though they have recognized the power of togetherness and community. This is indeed Vonnegut’s answer, but the way to cultivate community is not given. Maybe reading Vonnegut is the way. (Let’s all read his book and discuss it, huh, what say you all?).

At any rate, I am conflicted. Vonnegut sits atop lists of great twentieth-century American authors. But give me Catch-22 or The Crying of Lot 49 before Slapstick. Fortunately, I am still in love with Slaughterhouse-Five, but I’m scared to reread Cat’s Cradle (it’s really great in my nostalgic-tinted shades). I still love Vonnegut, but I am sadly but properly growing out of him, I guess.

Here follow some context-less sentences from the novel:

“Hi ho.”

“I spoke of American loneliness. It was the only subject I needed for victory, which was lucky. It was the only subject I had. It was a shame, I said, that I had not come along earlier in American history with my simple and workable anti-loneliness plan. I said that all the damaging excesses of Americans in the past were motivated by loneliness rather than a fondness for sin.”

“And all the information we received about the planet we were on indicated that idiots were lovely things to be.

So we cultivated idiocy.”

Carrie – Stephen King

“Stephen King is marvelous.”

I said this sentence twice on Friday, unsolicited really. It just came out. And no sooner had I said it than I began believing it. Or, was it that it only then became consciously known to me? Yes, I am telling you that I just found out that I love Stephen King.

I hadn’t read really anything by him before, except his On Writing twice and a few short stories. I’ve seen some of the movies based off his work, and I have often ignorantly criticized him, saying he should’ve been a screenwriter, because I thought it unbelievable that someone could write that much fiction and the fiction still be good. But I am coming at this from a different point of view now: his fiction, all of it, based on my inductive reasoning, is good.

Carrie was King’s first published novel. That happened in 1974. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the full movie, certainly not planned or in one sitting, but I’ve seen scenes on the TV. And both the first adaptation and the recent one were influential in my expectation. Plus, I knew the plot, because I’m pretty good at getting that from previews, etc. But also, King gives a synopsis in that other book I’d read.

I don’t really read this sort of stuff, because (simply) I am pretentious. By “this sort of stuff,” I mean horror or pop-fiction or whatever. But King writes well.

A teenage girl who is bullied has a telekinetic talent. She uses it to destroy a lot of stuff, virtually a whole town.

There’s the short of it. But even there, a rich conversation could develop. Was she vindicated because of the bullying? But also, the novel deals with religion’s effect on the way we treat people, the way we treat stories, the way we think about high school, and a bunch of other big ideas.

It’s good.

The book reveals Carrie’s special power on the first page, and the culminating event is uncovered early also, so while I was reading—with that annoying forward-looking part of my psyche guessing at future events—I expected the ending to surprise me with something else. But it didn’t.

Carrie, to my mind, is not about its eponymous character. The truth (or, I’m sorry, theme) of the novel has to do with the way we traffic truth. And I think this theme is motivated by the most apparent storytelling device—its use of other texts (interviews, memoirs, scientific, etc.) to tell the story. And because the novel is 40 years old, I revered King’s method, thinking it novel. (You read that last sentence correctly: novel was used as both a noun and an adjective [I am progressing: I previously would have edited the sentence to include, “novel novel.”])

Now normally when in a lit class the question of multiple perspectives comes up, the stock answer is that the author employs them to get closer to the truth. But that seems so easy that I disregard it initially. However, I thought about it again, and I think the various sources from which we receive the story do help to construct a real picture (King’s talent at characters’ voices is largely responsible). But this isn’t because of the method as a device; the story becomes true because it, again, is not about Carrie. It is about the telling of stories—which, apparently as King says in his On Writing, is one of his consistent themes.

And here, the narration confronts this theme head on, locating it (the theme/truth/story) in Carrie, the character—from the mind/mouth of another character, Susan Snell: “They’ve forgotten her, you know. They’ve made her into some kind of a symbol and forgotten that she was a human being, as real as you reading this, with hopes and dreams and blah, blah, blah.” So the irony here is that most of the characters around Carrie didn’t consider her a human being while she was alive either.

But the quote is true. We do that. People are used as symbols, regularly, especially after they’re dead. But being a symbol as a dead person is substantially better than the symbolic use of a real, live person. Right?


Scorpionoia: House Pests and Love Nests

Or, Snakebites and Gigabytes / Scorpion Stings and Bad Dreams

A couple of nights ago, a scorpion stung me. It was through a shirt, and it really wasn’t that bad, which I can say now because I’m a couple of days removed, and there is nothing left of the event other than my memory of it.

So here/there it is/was: my newborn son resisting sleep; my wife doing the very thing he resisted; me reading. Because of his whininess (a paternally inherited faculty) I picked him up and took him to the rocker-recliner, so he could feel comfortably snug and I could read. After sitting down for a few moments, I decided that a pillow would suit both of our desires better than the terrible torture of pillowlessness. I placed the pillow on my lap, placed him on the pillow and suddenly felt a pain on my stomach. I looked down, expecting something other than what I saw, and flipped out a little bit (allegedly). I flicked the scorpion away and put my son on the bed—or, gave him to my wife who woke up from some sound she said she heard.

After gaining my composure—yes, I know: my son is two weeks old and he’s already witnessed his father being better at something than he is (and sure, in this case, the thing I was better at was being a baby)—I immediately located my phone and researched scorpion stings and scorpion species and treatment. You should really look up the symptoms of serious scorpion stings. They’re like sweating and itchiness and whatever else we all come down with upon the very sight of something even slightly arachnoid. The last two sentences are highly sibilant, which reminds me of something that I thought I’d get to later, but now is a good time: two nights prior to the scorpion attack, a snake was in the house. And this event forced the same reaction: I was on the phone trying to identify the snake and gathering ideas for snake-proofing, etc.

And this whole pest problem has occurred for the first time in our new house since bringing home the brand new baby, who—after every individual movement (or non-movement), sound (or silence), and behavior (or misbehavior)—has both my wife and I frantically googling as well. Here’s a taste of my recent search list: “newborn nasal congestion” ; “newborn farts” ; “grunting baby” ; “newborn breathing patterns” ; and then all these others about snakes and scorpions (including “snake poop”). Well there, I let it out. We all know that the single most revealing act that anyone can make in our wide-webbed world is to confess one’s google search history. And man, letting out that dirty (and smelly, smelly) laundry feels great.

But seriously, it’s a little bit funny (this feeling inside) to mechanically and habitually and instinctively and instantaneously get this urge to search for some info or answer online about something worrisome at hand. I could go deeply into personal details about my irrational paranoia concerning my son here, but I’ll reject the instinctive (and here a little self-involved) wallet-full-of-my-kids’-pics-ritual pull. It’s wild how reliant we are on the information overload. I’m doing all this reading on SIDS, and my wife’s grandmother explains how if her baby (my father-in-law) were crying, she’d just pick him up and put him in the bed—the bed that had her and her husband already in it (!), with the adult-sized, thick, suffocating blankets and comforters and pillows and whatever else the SIDS site said was a capital-n “No, No”! With all the information comes all this (perhaps warranted) worrying. This isn’t a new sentiment, but I’ve been worrying and web surfing so frequently that I’ve been reflectively considering the significance, wondering if anything is lost.

Others have written about the pervasive google habit, because of its portable availability on our phones, and whether our memories and brains are shrinking, but I don’t really care about that. The world is always shrinking and always growing; it must remain as the one abstraction that we comfortably allow to do two things at once, that we let be both/and, that we allow to remain a paradox—a paradox that we welcome and try not too hard to think about because its physical limitations infiltrate our conceptual undertakings and we realize that we’ll never be able to hold a consistent and well-rounded (just took you out to pun-ch!) and truthful idea/image of the world in our heads. Which, by golly, need be the impetus we all feel to write it (the world) down. Put your thought down on paper; externalize yourself and your ideas so that you can then (because we aren’t all F. Scott Fitzgerald) hold another, ostensibly opposing idea up to that one and both can be true at the same time. And then we’ll realize that either/or is useless, and the lines we draw between things can’t be straight and are probably circles (or infinity signs!), the borders we build must be porous, the bottles in which we place things are rapidly exploding like shaken colas, the cages that contain our conceptions are constructed by cretins, the words we assign can’t carry their weight, and on and on.

When considering writing this, I never expected to get to a point about paradox, but I guess, now that I am here (and my being here must demonstrate that the discussion is a p…x), I’ll attempt to concisely compose the apparent paradox at hand: I pride myself on knowledge and knowing, yet without hesitance I yield when it comes to something important. Maybe this isn’t paradox number 1, but I do think it’s true. Regrettably and revealingly, I am prideful. But again, I release that reaction if something seems dangerous or is out of my scope—as snakes and scorpions and (more so, proven every moment) babies are.

Please feel free to try your attempts at consolation or just respond or something. I mean, I have plenty of time after the attack because I contracted scorpionsomnia (there just must be more of them—and in our bedroom!).

This Week’s Sentence 2

“I love your passion and drive, even if it is directed towards make-believe sports and war missions.”

This Week’s Sentence 1

In an attempt to keep up with some web-based writing, I’ve decided to choose a particularly powerful sentence every week, occasionally attempting to explain its appeal.

This is the first, from James Joyce’s “The Dead” (Dubliners):
“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

The alliteration, repetition, and similar (in syntax and sound) phrasing contribute to the sentence’s poetic quality. The “their” lacks a clear antecedent in the sentence and in the story; in fact, I don’t believe it has an antecedent, but rather “their” refers to “the living and the dead.” This is the last sentence in the story, and it contains the entire story, as great sentences should.

The story is about the deadness in repetition. It’s hard to argue the deadness of this sentence, as it is alive with vibrant prose, but maybe the deadness can be argued by way of a suspect, perhaps inane, aspect in the sentence. I am not around snow often, but I’m sort of incredulous at the thought of this: “he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe.” I’ve never heard snow, nor (from what I understand about snow and cosmology) does snow fall through the universe; well it does, but in an unspecific way. Be it “falling faintly” or “faintly falling,” the sentence is only delaying the word “dead,” which doesn’t matter because it will come, eventually. And the “living” are included with the “dead,” and, indeed in the story, are “The Dead.”

Relation and Relations

My fiance is sending text messages to my phone while I’m in class, and we’re having something of a conversation. She is on campus for her cousin’s dance recital, which is in the Fine Arts Auditorium, and she has vehemently suggested that I attend after class. But my class goes from 1810h-2140h, and the recital starts at 1930h—I didn’t think I’d be able to make any of it. Luckily, there are around 47 acts, or so, to this recital; I can make some of it (which turns out to be most of it) after class, and with more luck still, her cousin doesn’t perform any of her routines (I can’t be sure that this is the right word for what these kids did, or even if it’s the accepted word for what these kids did) until after my class gets out (but that isn’t important here).

The classroom for this particular class is on the second floor of a building that relates to the FAA via an expanse of grass, approximately fifty yards, called (with glib grimness) The Green. I’m on the second floor; my fiance is on the first floor. What is more is that The Green lays on a 10-15 degree grade downward, and once inside the FAA, an aisle-strider would notice another comparable grade (you know, stadium-seating). I’m on the second floor; my fiance is on a much-farther-down first floor. What is more is that we’re staring in opposite directions, being entertained (to different extents) by what is in front of our eyes, which are staring (again) in opposite directions.

[You’ve got to understand that a recent, domineering strand of thought is that I’ll be joined together with this woman in six weeks: one flesh. A fundamental hindrance for me with regards to relationships is a tangible understanding of experience (See: Autistic/Solipsistic)—I can’t make total sense of the existence of others’ experience. (And this other person, who has other experiences, who experiences experiences differently than I do, is joining me in flesh, which is how we experience physical things) (!).]

Bring yourself back to how my fiance and I are physically related. A straight, immaterial line around 115 yards could probably connect us. But it’d hit our backs first, as we’re back-to-back across this distance, and we’re at very different levels of height, facing different objects of interest. And I haven’t been in a dark FAA for a dance recital; nor have I ever witnessed a dance recital; i.e, I haven’t an idea as to what she’s experiencing. (Though she may have some vague, cerebral vision of what is happening in my classroom, I don’t really know, as I didn’t ask her. In fact, I haven’t brought any of this up to her, and she will most likely choose not to read this.) We’re both having singular experiences. (And I know, that last sentence incited a “Duh!” from you, but just take “singular” loosely, not as literal as normal—apply it to this situation).

But anyways, after the class finishes, I head straight (I say “straight,” but there is an erroneous, extraneous detour that is rather embarrassing) to the dance recital. An early-evening rain soaked the grass through which I tread. But I make it to the FAA, and obey her text of, “walk in the door, right to the right of the concession stand and walk all the way down til you see [my grandma] on your right.” I find them, and sit directly behind my fiance in the row behind their group, which includes my fiance, her mom, her aunt, her grandma, and a cousin.

Her family is here—that is, a lot of people I know are here. An uncanny feeling came fast upon me (it could be attributed to my having worked a 12-hour shift before such a long class). Because of the performers’ talent-level and the performances’ presentation, the recital has an air of television, and the group I joined acts like they were watching television. The situation wasn’t unlike removing us from my future grandmother-in-law’s living room and placing us in this pretty-full auditorium. It is fun, and I am sleepy. It is uncanny.

My sleepiness and bad eyesight, in addition to the incessant pointing of crowd-members to specify the kid they’d come to see to parties who couldn’t make out the children’s faces, provoked this fictionalized scene:

A father or adult or some man [it was important (rather, necessitated by realism) that it was a man] is at a dance recital, in which his daughter or a related child is performing, but he can’t figure out which one is the child he knows. At some point during the performance, he decides on one of the young children who will do, who looks similar enough. If he focuses on the wrong child during the extent of the performance, while thoughts of adoration and enjoyment of his relation encompass his mind, is anything lost? Effectually, he’s been romanced by a mirage. But that’s ok, right?

I thought about this for about half of one of the acts, and it seemed sufficiently significant or inventive for a piece of fiction I’d like to write. Then I gave up, going back to this strangely significant feeling of my own, real situation. I was with the girl I love, and I was happy. But I had to situate myself. I had to figure out why this moment I was in felt so meaningful in itself.

Not only was I let into a heretofore unexperienced experience, but I was able to jump into a place in which my fiance was already. She was there, living; I was elsewhere, living. And then I came into her place, and lived with her. But when I got there, she explained, “You didn’t miss anything. Chloe hasn’t performed yet, and they’ve all pretty much been the same.” That was it. I was able to experience this certain experience with her, but also, I was given access. By her saying that what I was experiencing was similar enough to what had preceded my attendance, I could superimpose what I knew to what I didn’t. This made the recital she viewed without me real, in a tangible way.

Obviously, most people don’t seem to need this sort of entrance, but I did. And the layers of significance erupted after inspection.