Saturday, May 8, 2010

The unfinished story.

Time to break the silence.

How could I catch up on all the things that have happened since January and February? There's been much—too much. But one of the funny things about writing a blog is that it's not like writing something like a journal, or a novel. It's a window into your life for the rest of the world to peer into. At least, that's how I've always wanted to write any blog I've kept for myself. I value the honesty of it, the upfront-ness of it. But you can often run into the blogger-privacy-dynamic. Sometimes you don't tell the same thing to every person—it is not always appropriate across the whole spectrum. We all deal with this, of course—but unfortunately for me, when it comes to writing, or at least blogging, I'm compulsively blunt and honest. This dynamic begins to creep up on you when "bigger" things start to change in your life that not everyone is aware of or, arguably, need to be aware of. Or—perhaps they do need to be aware of them, but that issue may be in the eye of the beholder. Dizzying, right?

Well, no matter worth considering too long. I'm here to catch up on everything that's happened so far. So let's start with the basics.

The rubber finally met the road, financially speaking, and I can say that things have changed radically from my last blog post. The stress of not knowing where your next batch of rent money is coming from has thankfully passed. Not only can I breathe easier, but I can dedicate time, and thus money, to the pursuits I really want to be engaging—such as painting, or writing, or transforming the backyard of my apartment, which is little more than a vacant dirt lot, into a flourishing garden.

On top of that, a trip up to the great white north to see family and old friends proved be a great time of introspection, self-reflection, and relaxation. It gave me time to think about the new developments in my life, and also where I wish to be headed as an artist, as a designer, as a writer, and as a human.

Finally, being in a healthy and happy relationship has been a godsend—perhaps literally—and saying that I'm thankful for that doesn't really match with what it actually means for me, nor how deeply it's impacted me.

What I can say is this: a new path is charted. I'm not entirely sure where it is going to lead me, but something that was lost has been found, if I could put it that way—and not just from a few months ago, but from a few years ago. I'm still seeking to understand it, what it means for me, and trying to pinch myself as to how real it actually is. And this I mean in a spiritual sense. I had never really counted how deeply growing up within the christian institution had affected me. But now, certain bonds have been broken—and re-tied, perhaps, or they will be re-tied, but not in the conventional ways. If there is such a thing as spiritual growth, it must mean that we grow tired of our old shells and grow a new one. This molting process may seem difficult for us, but more it may be more difficult for others in fact who are not going through the same transition. They may not understand it, it might not be for them—they might not even need it. But the fact of it is that what I believe, and what I believe I am, is not and cannot be contained by typical Christian theology. While I understand that others are very comfortable in this realm, I was never one to stay comfortable, even from when I was young. I think back to the first days where it struck me that I "could" or "should" be a Christian—walking out of Sunday school classrooms at four or five years old, pamphlet in-hand explaining that Jesus loved me and had suffered something deeply for—what? Me? Something I had done? It was never explained what. Only later did I understand that via something called "original sin", which smacks to me now of an intellectual conjuring rather than an intuitive truth, could I understand how a four-year-old could be responsible for the brutal and execution of a man two millennia ago. St. Augustine called every infant a tyrant, and it seeped into every "good" preacher's thought process since it was made sacred dogma. And while I think it is true that humanity has lost connection with spiritual realms, essences, and truth, I think this obvious disconnect has been compressed and mutated, transforming into an unbendable doctrine that, because it is unbendable, acts more like a brace than a channel. This is what original sin is. It is reflective of truth—but it is not truth itself. This is the great bait and switch Christianity has played on itself. It was an intuition, unstable and profound. It should have remained there—but as soon as it is canonized, it becomes foundational, immovable, and unshakable—and thus, brittle and empty. Like a vein that could carry valuable blood and nutrients, but is now clogged up with "junk" truth that masquerades as the thing it should only be representing.

I think of how I went to church on Easter—first time I'd been in a church for many years. Stranger still, that it was the same church (or, the same people, the building had just changed) I had remember from childhood. I actually looked forward to the sermon, wondering what this teacher would say about what christians believe to be the most pivotal moment in history—the death and resurrection of their god. I didn't have any expectations, but I did have hopes—I hoped for poetry, I hoped for celebration. I hoped for an expression of this great and powerful truth for the mystery of what it was.

While I was unsurprised that, I was still shocked that what instead the teacher spoke of was the mechanics of theology. As if he was picking apart a car, he explained to a quiet congregation the inner workings of the mystery, which was not a mystery at all. Each piece of doctrine, each intellectual morsel, was thoroughly oiled and fit neatly with the other. Nothing was out of place, nothing out of the unbreakable circle. And, most curiously, he was so passionate about the completeness of the system that, seemingly, by virtue of its completeness, its weight should be pressed on every person within the room—certainly the ones who did not believe it to be true. Like a scientist dissecting the anatomy of a highly complex animal, he completely and utterly dissected the meaning of the Christ and his work, so on and so forth.

And as I sat there I wondered, for all the mystery and all the passion, all the pivotal moments that had led up to that day two thousand years ago, all this man could talk about was what it "actually meant". As if the events were a metaphor for the system, and not the other way around.

I thought it funny that while Jesus had spoken completely in metaphor and mystery, almost intentionally confusing his listeners, that now it seems all his teachers can ever talk about is the exactness of things. Jesus was an elusive figure—a wanderer, going from town to town, performing miraculous feats none of the teachers of his day could replicate. Whenever he spoke to the people, it was in strange lessons and stories that even his closest friends couldn't understand. He was a man possessed—possessed by power, possessed by truth, possessed by some kind of reality far beyond the scope of what any of the approved teachers, with their highly systematized and clearly explicated lessons, could stomach. And it was not even the radicalness of the truth that he spoke about—in the end it was the politics of what he said that got him killed.

I find it ironic then that the modern teachers of this "word" have gone and done the same thing the his enemies had done. Jesus is a mystery. He always was, always will be. I find it funny that we may worship the mystery, and then deny there is such a thing as mystery to him. What do we worship then? The system that defines the mystery?

This is why I no longer call myself a Christian these days. I can't get around the fact that I believe Christianity is at ends with the Jesus it surrounds. It is not simply that all institutions, in the end, fail their purpose if grown to large or deep—it is the extent to which Christianity has gutted itself, and its God, of everything that is worth worshipping.

So now, you may ask… where does this leave me? Or, perhaps, lead me? I'd rather take the mystery on its own terms, with a healthy dose of salt. Maybe I'll write more about my research on the subject here. However, I don't believe that the writings in the Bible are completely god-inspired. They were written by men, and while there is spiritual truth written in those words, the fluidity of that truth oscillates with the humanity possessed in the hands that wrote them. To call something like the Bible the word of God is another bait and switch I find so incredible that it disheartens me—not because I don't believe it to be true. But because it is only half the story, and less than half of the word of God that is scattered everywhere else in the world—and beyond simple books, but in reality as we experience it. The quietness of things. The shifting of the world, and the depths of the mind, which stir with restlessness when put under a lamplight. There are hidden things we don't understand, don't want to understand. Sometimes life will kick us over the head when we're not listening. But most often, the rest of its lessons come in a quiet whisper. It is our job to read the signs… to see the symbols, to understand that if we were to push against the walls and veils of this life, we would find the borders to be pliable and flexible. Maybe, if we were so humble in our own life and had learned enough lessons, we could even reach deeper, and pierce that fabric, reaching down and below.

The simplicity of understanding life at its surface is easy. That's why people do it, and remain there. For others, it is not that it is easy, but because it is all they need to learn this time around—which I believe to be fine. Like a grueling lesson plan we can only understand in small amounts, I don't believe people are to be faulted when they stay in what they know, because it is all they know. But I will fault them when they stay in what they know, and are bold enough to declare it is all they ever need to know. The Bible has its own lessons about pride.

So… what does all this have to do with me, in my life, now?

Simply that I need not be bound by the religion of my youth. As we grow spiritually into adults, even Paul teaches, we move from spiritual liquids to solid foods. Not that I'd be bold enough to claim I can eat a steak these days—in fact, my spiritual stomach is so sensitive that whatever I take in I have to take in bite-size morsels. But I will not live on bread alone… it's time that I moved onto something much better and tastier. In fact, I think I should have done so years ago.

It's exciting. It's scary, it's fruitful. I have to have my wits about me and I have to be aware of my surroundings. But I never was easily satisfied with simple truth, I think. Was it my own intuition, or was it simply watching what my family went through? I think the latter… but I always suspected truth was much more complex than this.

And yet, again, it comes back to the simplicity. The ease of it. Almost as if we have to regress. Back to childhood. The child can't comprehend original sin, but what of it, when the adults are taught that they must become like children?

My greatest hope is that I need not be always bound by the religion of my youth, because while I may claim I've moved beyond it, and I have, I still feel its tether via memory. Is that because I should come back to it? Or is it just because it is too strong to let go of in two months' time?

The story is unfinished. But then, isn't that how it's supposed to be? I'm not sure if I'd like it another way. It's always more beautiful when it's unfinished.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blogging Hiatus

It's rainy here in downtown Seattle—I mean, Tucson. I'm blogging from Skybar, one of the local haunts for coffee goers.

Unfortunately the month of January/early February have been difficult, and may continue to be difficult, mostly due to financial reasons. This is why I've been on a bit of hiatus for blogging. Ironically, I can make as much work for myself as I want—the question is, will it bring in an income? While my schedule of design gigs suggests that after mid-February things will look much more up than they have been lately, nevertheless I have concluded that, in the grand scheme of my experiment—the move to Tucson—it is time to get a "real" job.

Not that design is not a real job. But between the economy, lack of connections, and the downturn of a few certain gigs that I have gotten, I've concluded that a more stable column in the income picture is necessary. Maybe I won't need it forever—but January taught me a few good lessons about what a bad economy can do to someone trying to make a living off their art, and just starting at it under a new name.

So my apologies for the hiatus, and unfortunately it may continue until things look much better. My intention with this blog was not only to be consistent, but for it to be a live documentation of my artistic works, my written works, and my progress in Flam Chen. While it is still all these things, finances have engulfed all these other priorities that would require, or suggest blogging. Thus, blogging is also on a hiatus.

My best to my (few) readers—and I promise I will return, and likely with much more exciting news than this!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I, Lower Middle Class

This month has been a difficult month. Financially, the holiday season has not been kind to me. Most of the situations have not been of my own doing, but rather have simply been unfortunate facts or been losses on other people's parts, and thus mine. Rather than passing blame, though, I've focused on seeing these situations as learning experiences.

Even though being a freelance graphic designer is not typically considered a lower-middle-class type job, I've been forced to consider alternative forms of income. Not because I can't find work as a designer, in fact (I have enough to keep me occupied and afloat), nor because it is not in demand. It is simply because the work I do is actually too expensive for most people. And even though I do not charge really what the lot of my work is worth (not to sound like I have a big head, but it's actually what most people close to me tell me personally), what I do charge does not really cover my cost of doing business in the long term. Yet, even if I did charge a more "typical" freelancing rate, I wouldn't probably be able to take on the kind of work I have already (it would be too expensive for most of my clients). It is a kind of catch-22.

Part of this is the economy, part of this is the nature of Tucson itself and the city's economic climate. Other factors may be part of it though—the fact that I am a relative newcomer; that I have, frankly, a limited amount of connections (though growing).

But whatever the case may be, I try not to dwell on those things. The fact that I am part of a subsection of economic society that I would call the "lower-middle-class" has allowed me a bit of time to reflect on how other people live, or are forced to live, with a different kind of standard of living, especially in terms of finances. I was shielded from the economic downturn back on the East Coast. Here, it is no longer the case. Now the odd realities of this subsection come to the forefront: it is easy to slip through the cracks of this country, which is not based on religion, nor democracy—yes, you read that. And I'm fairly convinced by it. Rather, the United States is based on Capitalism.

Is it really that far fetched?

Maybe it's too strong a statement. But it's just a strong statement, I think, when ones close to you cannot afford health insurance, yet are too "rich" to afford food stamps. Or your close friend, who is a diabetic, does not benefit from the current options for health insurance as they are, since they cost them about as much as the medication and doctor visits would alone. Only the obviously socialist and Unamerican health care reform plan would actually improve her chances of making ends meet—and thus, in her case, keeping her body functioning properly.

The logic of capitalism is so simple, it is enticing: those who work hard enough will succeed. Those who do not work, or are not successful at their work, will not succeed. It is a romantic ideology, and carries with it a kind of snobbery. It assumes that, regardless of how much or how hard a person's work is, if it does not succeed given the conditions, it deserves to fail. It hinges on that clause "enough", and does not define the end goal beyond the vague word of "success". And it turns a blind eye to the ratio of work between the one who can lift a finger to invest and the one who must break their back to make their family's bread.

This inherent blindness is something that I think is reflected in Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism, A Love Story. Not that I put a lot of faith in Michael Moore and his work—some of his latest films I think have been the work of elaborate fact weaving as much as they have been muckraking. But this one, which I saw months ago now, is echoing strangely these weeks as I watch both myself and my friends struggling to make their ends meet. Some might blame them for being artists in a world that does not favor the artist as an economic entity.

Well, I'd say that's a very capitalistic response. And, instead of concede it, I'd rather blame that response with a second blindness—ignoring the inherent value of the artistic consciousness in a culture that is more and more starved for meaning. And if you're doubtful of such a starvation, just visit the spiritual self-help section in the closest bookstore. I bet it'll change your mind. That response to artistic culture in a capitalist society can be compared to the same mentality I heard once evoked by an American man, only a few feet in front of me, when I was visiting the Louvre in Paris. He said, while looking at the classic paintings of Greek heros and Old Testament prophets: "You'd wonder if they all must have been naked back then!"

I would have laughed if he had not said it seriously. He couldn't, or didn't try to understand why it was worthwhile to dedicate your time to understanding the visual beauty of—and that which is underneath—the human body. I'd wonder if he'd say the same thing if he was walking through the Erotica convention in Los Angeles, since, after all, "they're all naked." Funny, that most porn stars seem to make a great deal more money than most painters. By the laws of capitalism, pornography must certainly be more valid or "viable" than art. There's no question of what it does to culture, society, the play of gender roles and relationships. Odd, that many social conservatives are also fiscal conservatives. I wonder how those two schools of thought may inhabit the same brain, and suppose that they each can happily coexist. If the institution of marriage is in trouble, why not get rid of the porn industry, which harms so many male minds and female bodies, and, by any typical measure of social conservatism, obviously dissolves the values that hold society firm. Of course, industries like that are too profitable. One puts their money where their beliefs are, don't they?

It's the irony of our culture, and how it plays out in those whose lives are less fortunate, or maybe just willing to make more sacrifices than the average. Yet at the same time, I realize that I am by no means unfortunate. In some places on this Earth, the machine I type these words on could feed a whole family for a year, perhaps. Just as I can't imagine living the life of a successful capitalist like Dick Cheney or Alan Greenspan, neither could a poor Sudanese woman imagine living the life I lead.

And there is another irony—the sad irony of our world. And as I remember how lucky I actually am, I'm thankful that this short stint in hard times can teach me what the value of ten, twenty, thirty dollars actually are. Hopefully the lesson will be strong enough that I can remember the way that other people must live, and that they cannot choose otherwise even if they wanted to (unlike me). Hopefully the rest of the world can gradually realize this—and it can put behind its comfortable, familiar ideologies of ethics and how economics "justify" it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heather as Falinian - Photoshoot Results

A bit of catchup from early December.

My friend Heather Cossette of Flam Chen was gracious enough to sit still for while and paint herself white for a special photoshoot.



This photoshoot was for gathering material for an online launch of my science fiction novel, Children of Falin. The novel has been a long, ongoing project for me, and the core manuscript was finished around two years ago. I've been meaning to publish it for a long time now, probably through self-publishing.

Well… since self-publishing takes money, and money is something I am not in great supply with, I've decided to do an even more alternative route: online publishing. Since I'm a web designer, a website is not something I need be in short supply of.

The plan is to release the novel online, with the greater 2/3 of it completely free and open to be downloaded and read. The last 1/3 would be a small fee for download—something like five bucks. And no restrictions on sharing it.

Of course the logistics of all this is something to be worked out—but I plan to be making print material for marketing. My dream is to even have a viral marketing campaign here in Tucson and the various events that travel beyond Tucson. But first, I needed some raw material to work with.

The novel focuses around a race of humans in the far future who are entirely female (sort of) and live in a very strict, theocratic
society. It's actually a big critique of institutionalized religion in metaphor—but visually, I'd like to think the novel is kind of striking, ala Avatar. The "Falinian race" as they're called, are noted for their pure-white skin and for tattooing their "sins" as visible symbols on their body.

I might be a little jealous of James Cameron's funding. But not to worry! I have my own tools at the ready: my camera, and Photoshop. Here are the results of the shoot with Heather:

There will be lots of versions of these, but this is the first step to the artwork which will ultimately exist on (there is an ancient website I built there already). But I thought I'd share this first step, as I was rather pleased with it.

I'll keep updating with the progress of photoshoots like these, and with the project of publishing my novel in general.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Fusion Bomb Test Recordings Found

Another newsflash courtesy of Wired. Apparently, a retiree cleaning out an old safe at a geological observatory found recordings of the first fusion bomb test, which was carried out by the US in 1957. It would be the second fusion explosion in the solar system—the only other one being the one that started the sun.

The article is here.

The recordings, after the right permissions and phone calls, were declassified, and are now on YouTube, spreading through the world.

Not quite sure what to expect, I decided to watch the video.

I was eating a plate of spaghetti at the time, and stopped chewing mid-video. And here I am now, posting this entry. The fact that this is actually real, and is nothing more than a camera pointed at a building with a 10-Megaton bomb in it, gives me chills. I am totally against nuclear proliferation—but at the same time I can't understand how my country would ask other countries to get rid of their nuclear capabilities (i.e. Iran), while we refuse to get rid of our own. Sure, it's completely politically incorrect, especially for foreign policy matters—but out of principle I can't sit with us instructing the world to do something we won't do ourselves.

Frankly, it is frightening to think that any country could have this kind of capability—and that their first instinct would be to weaponize it. You would think that it would have been much more comforting or exciting to find decade-old videos of the first fusion-powered car or electric generator in some old University safe somewhere, rather than the same mechanism incarnated as a bomb. It's a shame that such a pioneering effort would also have to be so terrifying.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on Negypt

Brandon in Negypt I saw Negypt twice this weekend. I made it a point to do so, in fact, because it took me two times to actually collect my thoughts on it. The first time I sat in the front row, the second I sat almost at the back, so that I could see others' reactions.

While I'm not a dancer and am not really well-versed in all the trends and schools of thought that dance is composed of, it's impossible to think that, even without a background in dance, I might have nothing to say about Negypt. One things for sure: whether you liked it, hated it, thought it was interesting or walked out of the show (I think one or two people did on Saturady), it's impossible to walk away from it without a reaction.

Personally, I really enjoyed it—even though I doubt many people would say the piece is not "enjoyable". The movement was a lot of convulsive, repetitive motions, highly emotive yet silent, and usually self-defeating. Hence the kind of movement Negypt is composed of, as it is self-described: "Deletist".

Some might find the idea to be pretentious or overthought. For me, such movements have their time and they place, and, when properly placed, can have great meaning. I appreciate it in that way. There were certain sections of the piece that I found to be downright peaceful. There is a certain place in the mind that is full of emptiness, and a simple state where one accepts that there is a profound lacking—and certain sections of Negypt evoked that place, which I know in my own mind as part of that which harbors the Muse. Negypt brought these hidden places to life in a palpable manner, palpable enough to remind me what it actually was like to exist in those places, and to absorb their reality.

However, there is a point where Negypt stops and does not go beyond. It visits that place of emptiness, that kind of nihilistic angst and the fact that the emptiness will not go away—but it stays there. I would dare to say that it wallows there, and is so introspective that its own angstiness, as beautifully expressed as it is, shows another kind of lacking—a lacking of redemption.

This is where people's various stages of personal growth and belief come into play. At a certain point you can't judge another person nor their work if they or it is nothing but honest—and Negypt certainly was. But, to use an analogy, if one is to truly embrace Taoism, for example, they can't just stay in the black/ying, they also have to venture into the white/yang. Negypt embraces the dark, but is so shocked by that embrace that it can't let go of it, and in forgetting to let go, refuses to grow from and beyond it. At a very deep and subtle level then, I would venture to say that it's imbalanced. You can't just gaze into the abyss—the abyss will also gaze into you. The pain that is in Negypt can be healed—at least, I believe it can. But it takes a certain measure of acceptance of that pain—and not the kind of acceptance that embraces pain as all that there is, and that's the end of it. It stops short of moving beyond the pain into the world beyond the abyss. If one is to be truly detached from this world, they have to be detached from detachment (it's not the same thing as attachment). That's the paradox of enlightenment—at least, what I've learned from it (I wouldn't claim to be enlightened). To be normal is to be enlightened, to be enlightened is to be normal. After awhile, it looks no different.

If Negypt's goal is to show the nature of enlightenment, according to Taoists and Buddhists (and darkness is part of it), it only presents half of the paradox. But as an intermediary step, a step into the initial darkness before the dawn, it is brilliant and beautiful. It truly does evoke the primal womb, and I would gladly stay there in those spaces if I could—it evokes the khora.

It's just necessary to remember that khora is a creative force as much as it is a destructive one. The movements in Negypt may be futile and self-defeating—the irony is that they have a great potential for peace and healing as well. Unfortunately, this isn't followed through with in the piece. Too often in such angst other side of nature is forgotten—and often it becomes only another form of blindness.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Seeing Negypt Tonight

My good friend and… very happy to say, significant other, ;) Natasha of Lunarius Graphics is performing in a psuedo Butoh piece tonight called Negypt. She also designed the promotional fliers for it, which in my opinion came out lovely. I've got one complimentary ticket, so I'll be seeing it on its first of three nights this weekend. A number of the rest of the Flam Chen family are involved as well, even though the piece is not Flam Chen. Aurelia Cohen, Barry Hatchel, and Katherine Tesch are all part of it (and others). The piece is written and directed by one Brandon Kodama.

Brandon in Negypt From what I've heard from the rehearsals the piece promises to be intense and very conceptual, if not a number of other adjectives. If you're in the Tucson area and are looking or something that will probably jar your psyche a bit, it's playing at the Zuzi Theater tonight Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday night as well.

Feel free to check out the Facebook event.

I will look forward to writing my responses to it either tonight or Saturday. My apologies for the lack of blogging lately—the month of December, and January for that matter, have been so busy that I've barely had enough time to finish all the work I've made for myself, much less document it for others to read about. But there is a lot of great stuff to catch up on, so you can expect to be seeing it shortly—from new years in Bisbee to photoshoots to help promote the publishing of my SciFi novel (more on that later), a lot of good stuff is up ahead.

Happy 2010!