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!